Moderation and variety are two important keys to eating well for health. Eating a wide range of foods in moderate amounts are hallmarks of a diet in balance, and great ways to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Sleep is also an important component of overall health and weight regulation. How do sleep and diet work together? That’s the subject of a new study, which indicates that people who sleep less than 7-8 hours a night may consume more daily calories and eat a less varied diet.
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania examined the dietary differences among people with different sleep patterns, and found that people who reported sleeping the recommended 7-8 hours per night consumed fewer calories than those who reported sleeping 5-6 hours per night. People who slept between 7-8 hours nightly also had more diverse diets than those who slept both less and more than this recommended nightly amount. Eating a wide range of foods is considered an indicator of a healthy diet.
Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES), a population-based survey of the health and nutrition habits of adults and children in the US, conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control. As part of the survey, participants report their nightly sleep amounts. Researchers used this information to create four sleep categories:
Very short sleep: Those who slept fewer than 5 hours per night
Short sleep: People who slept 5-6 hours nightly
Standard sleep: Those who slept 7-8 hours per night
Long sleep: People who slept for 9 or more hours nightly
The NHANES data also included detailed information about participants’ daily eating habits. Using this information, researchers analyzed how the diets of short and long sleepers differed from standard sleepers, in terms of the range of foods and nutrients, and also calorie intake.
They found that calorie consumption differed among the four groups:
Researchers also found differences in the makeup and quality of diets across the four groups:
We don’t know from this study whether diet is influencing sleep or sleep is influencing food choice, or both. But the evidence is abundant that these two pillars of health—sleep and diet—affect each other in a number of ways. We’ve seen a great deal of research that diet and weight control are strongly influenced by sleep, and that too little sleep can make eating healthfully more challenging:
Sleep has a powerful effect on diet and weight control. There is also evidence that diet can help or hinder sleep, depending on what foods you choose:
Want your diet and your sleep to work together, each strengthening the other? Adopt a varied, nutrient-rich diet and a sleep routine that allows for 7-8 hours of nightly rest. Now that’s a recipe for long-term health.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™