(Appetite) The secret to falling asleep quickly and staying asleep all night could be as close as your refrigerator. People who eat a large variety of foods, which is an indicator of an overall healthy diet, have the healthiest sleep patterns, according to researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Sleep, like nutrition and physical activity, is a critical determinant of health and well-being. In this first nationally representative analysis, the Penn team found that certain dietary nutrients appear to play an underlying role in short and long sleep duration. for the current study, researchers used the survey question regarding how much sleep each participant reported getting each night to separate the study participants into four groups of different sleep patterns:

  • Very short: less than five hours a night
  • Short: five to six hours a night
  • Standard: seven to eight hours a night
  • Long: nine or more hours a night

With this data, the Penn research team analyzed whether each group differed from the seven- to eight-hour “standard” sleep group on any nutrients and total caloric intake. In addition, they looked at these associations after controlling for overall diet, demographics, socioeconomics, physical activity, obesity and other factors that could have explained this relationship. The results:

  • Total caloric intake varied across groups.
  • Short sleepers consumed the most calories, followed by normal sleepers, followed by very short sleepers, followed by long sleepers.
  • Food variety was highest in normal sleepers and lowest in very short sleepers.
  • Differences across groups were found for many types of nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Sleep patterns and specific dietary nutrients:

  • Very short sleep was associated with less intake of tap water, lycopene (found in red- and orange-colored foods) and total carbohydrates.
  • Short sleep was associated with less vitamin C, tap water, selenium (found in nuts, meat and shellfish) and more lutein/zeaxanthin (found in green, leafy vegetables).
  • Long sleep was associated with less intake of theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), dodecanoic acid (a saturated fat), choline (found in eggs and fatty meats), total carbohydrates and more alcohol.