Is diet ruining your sleep?

Weight, sleep and diet are linked.  We know that, but we don’t know exactly what the link means.  Does lack of sleep cause people to eat more, or choose higher calorie food?  Does lack of sleep somehow affect metabolism and cause weight gain?  Or does a high calorie obesity-promoting diet interfere with sleep?

A new study suggests it’s the diet.  Here’s how it went:

  • More than 4500 people in an ongoing diet study were asked how many hours of sleep they got each night.
  • Subjects were categorized into 3 groups:
  1. very short sleepers (less than 5 hours/night)
  2. short sleepers (5-6 hours)
  3. normal sleepers (7-8 hours)
  4. long sleepers (9+ hours).
  • Diet patterns were analyzed and compared to sleep categories.

Results:

  • Short sleepers ate the most calories; long sleepers ate the least.
  • Normal sleepers had the most diet variety; very short sleepers had the least variety in food choices.
  • Very short sleepers drank less water, ate fewer carbs and their intake of nutrients common to vegetables and fruits was lowest.
  • Long sleepers consumed less saturated fat and less theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate and tea.  They drank more alcohol.

What to make of this?  The study authors point out that a more varied and healthier diet is associated with normal sleep patterns.  So perhaps a balanced diet with moderate calorie intake helps you sleep.  Or, conversely, eating a lot disrupts sleep.  Especially if you eat big heavy meals close to bedtime.  Another possible conclusion: since very short sleepers ate fewer carbs, perhaps a high protein/high fat diet disturbs sleep somehow.

One thing this study didn’t do was compare body weight to sleep.  People who eat more calories and less balanced diets may be heavier, and it could be that sleep disruption is more about body weight.  That’s especially likely if someone has sleep apnea.  So we still don’t have an answer to why sleep, diet and weight are linked.  We just know they are.

Best strategy for now: keep your weight in a healthy range, eat a balanced diet and don’t drink too much alcohol.

 

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