A study published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports that sleep quality improves with certain diet characteristics.
In a sleep lab, researchers controlled the intake of food of participants by monitoring the consumption of fiber, saturated fat and sugar. Here is a summary of their findings when participants ate healthier choices:
• Less time taken to fall asleep
• More time spent in slow-wave sleep (deeper, more restful)
• Fewer times aroused from sleep
An interesting finding was that high saturated fat was associated with less deep sleep. This finding may be confounded with other variables such as lower fiber associated with higher saturated fat (and thus the result being due to fiber). The study was not robust enough to validate these issues. But it does suggest that further research should be performed and that this finding may have implications for certain dietary patterns such as the paleo diet, ketogenic diets and the Atkins diet.
Very little research has been done on the impact of sleep on sleep disorders. There is hope that more research will follow to confirm these results and tease out the mechanisms.
Preliminary theories regarding these findings include:
• High carbohydrate intake delays circadian rhythm and reduces melatonin secretion. This would explain the increased time taken to fall asleep with excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption.
• The blood sugar dysregulation resulting from sugar consumption also disturbs circadian rhythm, probably by changing cortisol secretion. Ideally, cortisol should be high in the morning and decline throughout the day and remaining low over night. Blood sugar issues can change this pattern, disrupting sleep.
• Fiber consumption improves blood sugar regulation so part of the improvement on sleep may be through cortisol regulation.
• Fiber consumption improves the microbiome and the ever more intriguing microbiome-gut-brain axis must play a role in sleep quality
This research certainly confirms my clinical findings. When patients eliminate food sensitivities, reduce/avoid refined sugar, improve their digestion and eat a higher fiber diet, they sleep better.
I keep seeing over and over that a healthy high fiber diet is a linchpin in the harmonious operation of every physiological system.