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Eat to Sleep: Which Foods Help Your Zzz's?


Does what you eat affect how well you sleep? The answer appears to be yes, and we're not just talking about midnight snacking.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania finds that a more varied diet - including five nutrients in particular - could improve people's sleep. The research was published online in May in the journal Appetite.

The researchers were interested in the diet-sleep link because too little sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive problems, while too much sleep can also indicate poor physical and mental health. But study coauthor Michael A. Grandner, an instructor in psychiatry and member of the university's Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, said few studies have looked at the link between what we eat and how we sleep "in a real-world situation."

"In general, we know that those who report between seven to eight hours of sleep each night are most likely to experience better overall health and well-being," he said in a prepared statement, "so we simply asked the question "Are there differences in the diet of those who report  shorter sleep, longer sleep, or standard sleep patterns?"

The researchers analyzed data from a 2007-08 federal health survey of Americans of all ages and demographics, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data included daily sleep amount as reported by the survey participants, as well as detailed records of what they typically ate. The researchers controlled for other influencing factors, such as obesity and physical activity.

The participants were divided into four sleep groups: Very short (less than five hours a night), short (five to six hours), standard (seven to eight hours) and long (9 or more hours).

Here's what the study found:

  • Very short sleepers consumed less lycopene - a nutrient found in red and orange foods like watermelon, tomatoes, papaya and pink grapefruit.
  • Short sleepers consumed less vitamin C - found in citrus fruits like oranges, as well as bell peppers and kale - and less selenium, found in nuts, fish, shellfish, sunflower seeds and oats.
  • Long sleepers ate less choline (an essential B vitamin found in eggs and meat) and less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), and consumed more alcohol.
  • Both very short and long sleepers consumed fewer total carbohydrates - the foods that supply the body with energy and that include fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals and grains.
  • Short sleepers consumed the most calories; long sleepers consumed the least.
  • Food variety was highest in normal sleepers and lowest in very short sleepers.


Does this mean that changing your diet might improve your sleep? The researchers can't answer that based on this study, but Grandner notes that those with the healthiest sleep patterns ate the most variety.

Certainly improving your diet to include more nutrients can't hurt - and it might even play a role in improving your sleep, as well.


Photo: NatalieMaynor via flickr


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