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What You Eat Affects Your Sleep

what you eat affects your sleep

If you want a good night’s sleep, pay more attention to what you eat. A new study explains how what you eat affects your sleep, which means you could be resting more peacefully by changing your eating habits.


One of the most interesting and surprising findings by the research team at Columbia University Medical Center in New York was that just one day of eating more of certain foods could have an impact on sleep. What are those foods?

  • Fiber, which is found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, seeds, and fruits
  • Saturated fat, which is found in meats, dairy, poultry, and oils
  • Sugars, which are found not only in desserts but also in most processed foods

Sleep study
The randomized, crossover study included 13 men and 13 women (average age, 35) of normal weight. They each spent five nights in a sleep lab, where they slept for an average of 7 hours and 35 minutes per night. Data were collected nightly and analyzed from night 3, after the participants had had three days of controlled feeding, and night 5, after one day of eating whatever they wanted.

The researchers discovered the following:

  • Participants fell asleep faster after they ate meals that consisted of lower saturated fat and were higher in protein than meals the subjects chose themselves
  • It took the participants an average of 29 minutes to fall asleep after eating foods and beverages they chose, but only 17 minutes to fall asleep after eating controlled meals
  • Participants experienced less slow wave sleep after eating whatever they wanted
  • Eating more fiber was associated with more slow wave sleep
  • Eating more saturated fat was associated with less slow wave sleep
  • Eating sugar and other carbs not considered to be sugar or fiber was associated with waking up more often during the night

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Slow wave sleep, aka deep sleep, is non-rapid eye movement sleep. During slow wave sleep, your heart and respiratory rates are low, you have extremely slow brain waves, and no muscle activity. This stage of sleep is necessary for regenerating tissues, recharging your energy, strengthening the immune system, and building muscle and bone.

More specifically, researchers from the University of Chicago School of Medicine have found that loss of slow wave sleep is associated with a decline in human growth hormone. This hormone is involved in stimulating bone growth, immune function, protein production, muscle glucose uptake, burning of fat, and maintaining cardiovascular health. Therefore, a reduction in the release of this hormone can result in increased body fat, loss of muscle tone, immune system malfunctions, and other problems.

The findings of this new study suggest that your diet has an impact on your sleep, and that making some modifications could improve sleep quality. According to the study’s principal investigator, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition, “The finding that diet can influence sleep has tremendous health implications, given the increasing recognition of the role of sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Also Read: How You Sleep Matters
Mindfulness Meditation May Relieve Your Sleep Problems
Exercise in the Morning for Better Sleep
Not Sleeping? Check Your Diet for These Nutrients

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Nutrition Review. Restoring deep, slow wave sleep to enhance health and increase lifespan.
St-Onge MP et al. Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2016; 12(1): 19-24