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Role of Healthy Diet and Exercise in Sleep Quality

Submitted by on April 7, 2016 – 3:25 PM

babysleepinghappySleep has long been the subject of much folklore in the past; a conduit to communicate with the dead, travel in meta-physical realms or predict an apocalyptic event. Although scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact purpose of sleep, it’s safe to say sleep is an essential component for life (rats deprived of sleep for 2 weeks or more inevitably die [1]).


Diet plays an important role in maintaining good quality sleep. Recent findings suggest that a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat is associated with poor sleep quality.  The Research was published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine [2].


The Study was led by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center, New York. The study followed the sleeping patterns of 26 Normal-weight adults aged between 30 and 45 years. The subject did not have any prior sleep issues. They were monitored for 5 days in a sleep lab, with sleep time allotted between 10 pm and 7 am. The researchers used Polysomnography to collect objective sleep data.


The subjects were given a control diet for the first 5 days, and were given a self-selected food intake for the 5th day.

The results of the study showed:

  • Sleep duration was not affected by differences in diet.
  • Foods with a greater fiber content were associated with less stage 1 (light sleep) and more slow-wave sleep.
  • Diets with a greater percentage of saturated fat were associated with less slow wave sleep.
  • Whereas diets rich in carbohydrates were associated with more arousals.

An associated study conducted by Dr St-Onge investigated variations in food intake following periods of restricted sleep. According to the study, restricted sleep was associated with excessive increases in food intake of the participants; especially increased fat intake. Thus we can see how a vicious cycle takes form, where poor sleep leads to poor dietary choices which in turn reinforce poor sleep quality.


An unhealthy diet has also been shown to be associated with Sleep Apnea (a conditioned characterized by sleep that is interrupted by episodes of very slight, or absent breathing). Sleep apnea puts stress on the heart which has to pump more in order to compensate for the decreased Oxygen supply by lungs, in the long run this can increase the risk for a host of problems ranging from heart failure to stroke. By ensuring healthy dietary changes along with adequate exercise one can minimize sleep apnea and subsequently decrease the risk for Cardiac problems. Looking at such studies, the case for diet/ lifestyle-based recommendations to treat sleep disorders can be made.


It is therefore recommended that we ensure our diets are balanced with adequate fibers, and limit the intake of saturated fats, while at the same time incorporating regular exercise.  Doing so will reinforce beneficial sleep patterns and help us live healthier lives.



[1] Everson CABergmann BMRechtschaffen A. Sleep deprivation in the rat: III. Total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 1989 Feb;12(1):13-21.,

[2] St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury AR. Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(1):19–24.



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