What to eat to help you sleep better

Getty Images

At one time or another, we’ve all been up counting sheep all night. Not only does lack of sleep lead to feeling crummy the next day, but sleep deprivation impacts health and could put a damper on training and running performance. Sometimes a bad night of sleep just happens, but recently researchers at Columbia University revealed your diet might play a crucial role in your shuteye.

Researchers recruited 26 normal-weight adults, aged 30 to 45, who regularly sleep seven to nine hours a night. Participants were randomly assigned to the restricted or habitual sleep phase. During the restricted-sleep phase, participants were only allowed four hours in bed, while the habitual-sleep phase participants had nine hours in bed. After six days, there was a three-week washout period before participants came back to the laboratory to complete the other phase.

For the first four days of each phase, researchers fed participants a controlled diet, containing 31 percent fat (7.5 percent saturated fat), 53 percent carbohydrates, and 17 percent protein. For the last two days of each sleep phase, participants were told to buy whatever food they wanted and eat at the lab. The researchers weighed participants’ food before and after they ate and analysed the nutrient composition.

The study found that when participants ate more saturated fat and less fibre, it took them longer to fall asleep and had a less deep, restful sleep. When participants consumed more sugar and refined carbohydrates, their sleep was disrupted. However, fibre intake was linked with deeper, more restorative sleep. This means that a diet high in fibre and low in sugar, refined grains and saturated fat could help improve sleep quality. (But leading up to a race or a long run, curb your fibre intake to avoid stomach issues while on the go.)

MAKE: Breakfast bircher muesli