When you eat better, do you find that you sleep better? There may be a connection between sleep and diet.  A new study found that eating more fiber, cutting back on saturated fat, and reducing sugar intake can be associated with deeper, more restorative, and less disrupted sleep.

Results show that greater fiber intake tended to result in more time spent in the stage of deep, slow-wave sleep. In contrast, a higher percentage of energy derived from saturated fat meant lighter slow-wave sleep. More arousals from sleep took place when greater sugar was consumed during waking hours.

Researchers have found that it takes remarkably little to make a difference in sleep patterns. “Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center. “It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”

“This study emphasizes the fact that diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle,” said  Dr. Nathaniel Watson, President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “For optimal health it is important to make lifestyle choices that promote healthy sleep, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.”

The study also found that after eating fixed meals prepared by a nutritionist, which were lower in saturated fat and higher in protein than self-selected meals, participants feel asleep faster. It took participants an average of 29 minutes to fall asleep after consuming foods and beverages of their choice, as opposed  to 17 minutes to fall asleep after eating controlled meals.

“The finding that diet can influence sleep has tremendous health implications, given the increasing recognition of the role of sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said St-Onge.

Twenty-six adults took place in the randomized, cross-over study, evenly divided between men and women. The adults had a normal weight and an average age of 35 years. Participants spent 9 hours in bed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for 5 nights in a sleep lab, sleeping for 7 hours and 35 minutes on average per night. Objective sleep data were gathered nightly by polysomnography, a diagnostic tool in sleep medicine. Sleep data were analyzed from night 3, after 3 days of controlled feeding, and night 5, after one day of when study subjects consumed food of their choice. Study results are published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The study suggests that dietary suggestions and changes might help improve sleep in people with poor sleep quality. However, additional studies are needed to assess and confirm this relationship.