A recent study from the Perelman School of Medicine explored the relationship between two key elements of health and well-being: sleeping and eating.

The study shows that certain nutrients may play an essential role in sleep duration and that people who report variety in their diet had the healthiest sleeping patterns. While previous research has shown that people who sleep between seven and eight hours a night are likely to be healthier overall, this study was interested in determining whether those who report shorter, more standard or longer sleep patterns also reported different dietary tendencies.

The research team analyzed the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They then asked participants how much they sleep each night and separated the sample into four groups: “very short” sleepers, who sleep less than five hours per night; “short” sleepers, who sleep between five and six hours per night; “standard” sleepers, who sleep seven to eight hours per night; and “long” sleepers, who sleep nine or more hours nightly.

The participants’ dietary intake was also recorded in detail, including specific references to items consumed in each meal.

The study found that each sleep group tended to consume a different amount of calories, ranging from “short” sleepers at the high end to “very short” and “long” sleepers at the low end.

“Standard” sleepers’ diets were the most varied, and “very short” sleepers’ were the least.

College and Engineering sophomore Alex Klochenok found it interesting that too much or too little sleep may cause a significant difference in caloric intake.

“The idea that an irregular amount of sleep could have such an impact on one’s weight makes me even more inclined to monitor my sleep habits more closely,” he said.

The researchers believe their work can have an impact on students.

“A lot of [people] will be drinking a lot of coffee in the afternoon and evening, and that’s not necessarily the best thing for sleep,” said study researcher and Research Associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology Michael Grandner. “Just trying to perform well academically, reducing your sleep time is one of the worst things you can do.”

College junior Natalie Aftanis said that this study addressed an interesting angle to the obesity epidemic.

“If science can tell people the hard facts about causes and effects of certain foods on sleep, and their interactions, people can find more agency in tailoring their diet to better their health status,” she said.

The groups in the study also differed in the nutrients they consumed, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. “Very short” sleepers consumed less total carbohydrates, tap water and a compound in red and orange fruits than those who slept more.

“Short sleepers” consumed less vitamin C, tap water and a nutrient found in nuts, meat and shellfish, and more of a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables. “Long” sleepers ate less theobromine — found in chocolate and tea — and choline, found in eggs and fatty meats. They consumed less total carbohydrates but drank more alcohol.

Assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Medical School and Director of Education at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders Kelly Allison found a take-home message for students in this study. “If you’re not sleeping enough, it could be that you’re also limiting the types of foods that you’re eating and maybe not getting all of the good nutrients that you need,” she said.

“A generation or two ago we thought very differently about diets. Do you remember when Scooby and Shaggy were hungry all time and they would make these sandwiches that were three feet tall? You’d never see that on a kids’ show these days, and it’s because our culture has changed its relationship with food in our generation,” said Grandner. “And we’re not at the point where we’ve changed our consciousness about sleep yet … eventually, maybe twenty years from now we won’t all be bragging about how little sleep we got.”

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