Ashley Bade RD, LDN, CNSD
A new study out of Penn State is the first to reveal an association between variety in the diet and sleep duration. It was found that those on a more varied diet were catching the greater zzz’s while the less-varied diets were counting sheep late into the night.
While we know that a varied diet is essential for optimal health, this study showed a possible new benefit to including a range of healthy foods. Nutrients that were of particular importance were tap water, lycopene (found in red and orange colored fruits and veggies) and total carbohydrates which were lower in the diets of very short sleepers (defined as less than 5 hours per night). Short sleepers (defined as 5-6 hours of sleep per night) had diets that were lower in vitamin C, tap water, selenium (found in nuts, meat & shellfish) and had higher intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin (both found in green leafy vegetables). While the envious long sleepers, defined as catching at least 9 hours of solid sleep per night had diets lower in theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), dodecanoic acid (a saturated fat), choline (from eggs and fatty meats) and total carbohydrates. Perhaps not surprising, this group was found to have a higher intake of alcohol than the other groups. Finally, the standard sleepers (defined as 7-8 hours of shut eye a night) were found to differ in diet overall with no specific nutrients coming to light in this group. However, the normal or standard sleepers were most likely to be in better overall health with lower rates of obesity and chronic disease.
Research has shown us for quite some time that a balanced and varied diet can offer a range of health benefits such as preventing certain cancers and chronic disease; this new study has brought to light the possible connection between specific nutrients in the diet with the sleep cycle. As the study states however, this is the first nationally-representative analysis of sleep duration and diet and the study notes that further studies are needed to assess if these nutrients have actual physiological effects on the sleep regulation.
Working on variety in the diet is important for everyone, no matter what your sleeping habits are. So until research can shed more light on what diet will yield the best slumber, here are a few simple swaps for adding some variety into your day:
1. For breakfast instead of having that healthy bowl of oatmeal plain, add a handful of almonds for some added calcium for bone health and monounsaturated fat for heart health.
2. Trade romaine lettuce in your lunch salad to spinach. You’ll still get the great vitamins A and C that the romaine lettuce can provide but you’ll also get antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene from spinach which can help with eye sight and prevention of chronic disease.
3. At dinner swap your typical broccoli or green bean side for a serving of kale which research shows contains at least 45 measureable antioxidant flavonoids- packing a big cancer-preventing punch.
4. Also for dinner, swap out your usual chicken for a protein packed serving of salmon to add heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
5. Change up your usual after dinner treat with a piece of dark chocolate to not only satisfy that sweet tooth, but to add flavonols into your diet, a nutrient with antioxidant properties that research has linked to vascular health.