June 1, 2023 | 12:19
Your sleep may not be restful if there are visions of sugar plums dancing in your head or in your gut.
A new study finds that eating a junk food diet high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods results in poor sleep quality.
And when participants in that study switched to a healthier diet, their sleep quality improved.
Both poor diet and poor sleep increase the risk of several public health conditions, Jonathan Cedernaes, co-author of the study and an associate professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, said in a news release.
Sleep problems have been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health.[N]One study had previously investigated what happens if we consume an unhealthy diet and then compared that to sleep quality after that same person eats a healthy diet, Cedernaes added.
The researchers asked 15 healthy young male volunteers to eat a healthy diet and an unhealthy diet, in random order for one week. Each diet contained roughly the same amount of calories.
Pizza, sugary cereal, meatballs and chocolate wafers were the mainstays of the unhealthy diet. The healthiest diet contained unsweetened yogurt, granola, salmon, and greens.
The unhealthy diet contained nearly double the amount of fat, 44% versus 23% of the healthy diet, and also nearly double the amount of sugar (17% versus 9%).
The participants’ sleep was measured in a polysomnography sleep laboratory, which uses a device that measures brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, respiration and eye movements, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The findings, reported in the journal Obesity, showed the men slept roughly the same amount of time and spent the same amount of time in different stages of sleep, regardless of their diets.
But after eating an unhealthy diet, during a deep rest phase of sleep, the amount of slow-wave activity in the men’s brains was reduced.
Slow-wave brain activity is a measure of how restful sleep is, and insulin sensitivity and growth hormone secretion have been linked to slow-wave sleep.
Intriguingly, we saw that deep sleepers showed less slow-wave activity when participants ate junk food, compared to consuming healthier food, Cedernaes said. Essentially, the unhealthy diet resulted in less sound sleep.
The study authors noted that their investigation was limited by the selected participants, all physically active young men with no obesity or weight issues, and the fact that there were only 15 participants.
Currently, we don’t know which substances in the unhealthiest diet worsened the depth of deep sleep, Cedernaes said. Our dietary intervention was also quite brief and both the sugar and fat content could have been higher. It’s possible that an even more unhealthy diet would have had more pronounced effects on sleep.
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