Eating fruits, vegetables, legumes can help boost sleep quality: Study
Just as diet can have an effect on the systems in the brain and body that control blood pressure, blood cholesterol, weight and other aspects of health, it can affect the processes that regulate sleep.
“We’re finding more evidence that improving your diet can lead to better sleep,” says Marie-Pierre St-Onge, director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York.
“All of the research is pointing toward similar findings: The foods and dietary patterns that are associated with better sleep tend to be lower in glycemic index [meaning they have less effect on blood sugar levels], low in saturated fat, low in added sugars and high in fiber.”
The reverse is equally true. Foods with the opposite attributes can get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Good diet strategies
When you build your diet around foods that fit those criteria, you end up with something that looks like the Mediterranean diet — a way of eating that emphasizes plant-based foods, including lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy sources of fat (such as olive oil, nuts and avocados), while limiting red meat, sweets and refined carbohydrates (such as foods made with white flour).
Studies examining the relationship between this pattern of eating and better sleep have shown promising results.
For example, a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients followed more than 400 U.S. women for a year to see whether compliance with the Mediterranean diet affected their sleep quality. Those with the greatest adherence to this way of eating had 30 percent lower sleep disturbance scores (meaning they got more solid rest) than those with the lowest adherence.
Certain categories of foods — fruits, vegetables and legumes — stood out for their positive effects on various measures of sleep quality. “Legume consumption was associated with better sleep overall,” says Brooke Aggarwal, an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and one of the study authors. “And the effects were dose-dependent — the more servings of legumes they ate, the more significant improvement they had in sleep efficiency.” (Sleep efficiency is the ratio of how many hours you sleep to how many hours you spend in bed.)
But it’s not that the Mediterranean diet necessarily has magic abilities to enhance sleep. “It’s the healthy components of that way of eating — more fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats,” St-Onge says. “You can focus on eating those foods in any predominantly plant-based diet.”
Higher fruit and vegetable consumption as part of a plant-based diet also means greater intake of beneficial antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. Emerging research points to an association between these compounds and improvements in sleep.
Polyphenols have effects on the autonomic nervous system and can increase heart rate variability [the fluctuation in time between heartbeats], St-Onge says. Higher heart rate variability is a sign you’re in a relaxed state and is associated with better sleep quality, she says.
Source: Consumer Reports