Junk Food Harms Sleep

We’ve all heard all the advice about keeping a healthy diet. And we have said many times before that you should avoid eating close to bedtime for a good night’s sleep. But a new study has underscored just how bad a poor diet is for sleep quality.

Everyone’s grandmother told them not to eat certain foods if they wanted a good night’s sleep. However, very little research has been done on how specific foods impact shuteye’s quality. Researchers from Uppsala Univ. looked at the impact of high-fat, high-sugar food on sleep quality. They learned that a diet high in fat and sugar doesn’t impact the duration of sleep, but it does reduce deep sleep and alters key sleep patterns.

The study was small, with just 15 healthy young men as the participants. They were randomly assigned to eat a diet that was high-fat/high-sugar for one week and low-fat/low-sugar another. The participants took part in laboratory sleep studies that monitored their brain waves as they slept.

Kristen Carli, a registered dietitian nutritionist who wasn’t involved with the research, pointed out the limitation of using just fifteen healthy young men. “No women, older adults, or children were evaluated, meaning that these results should not be extrapolated to the general population.”

It was randomized in a laboratory, but there was no variety in the participants, and it was very short. However, the study shows that diet can impact sleep for individuals. It’s not just a matter of timing or amounts — food quality does matter.

When the men ate the unhealthy diet, they had less slow-wave activity. That shows how restorative sleep is. They slept more shallowly. While they progressed through the same stages of sleep and got the same amount of sleep, they weren’t as well rested at the end.

Jonathan Cedernaes, Physician and Associate Professor in Medical Cell Biology at Uppsala Univ., was excited by the results but pointed out that there is a lot of research to be done to dive into their study’s results. “Currently, we do not know which substances in the unhealthier diet worsened the depth of deep sleep. As in our case, unhealthy diets often contain both higher proportions of saturated fat and sugar and a lower proportion of dietary fiber. It would be interesting to investigate whether there is a particular molecular factor that plays a greater role. Our dietary intervention was also quite short, and both the sugar and fat content could have been higher. It is possible that an even unhealthier diet would have had more pronounced effects on sleep.”

Dr. Shawn Talbott, a nutritional biochemist who studies sleep, praised this latest sleep study. He said, “The new study is a good one because it looked at not only sleep duration, but also sleep quality — and showed that junk food leads to junk sleep.”

While this research needs to be expanded, it shows a link between the quality of a diet and sleep. When it comes to eating and getting a goodnight’s sleep, sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding snacking close to bedtime, seem to be your best ways to help yourself feel great in the morning!

Banner image: Anastasia Shuraeva via Pexels

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