People who follow a plant-based diet may experience a lower risk of insomnia—a common and debilitating sleep disorder—according to a new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Insomnia, characterized by persistent difficulties in falling and staying asleep, poses a significant threat to overall health. Research has linked the sleep disorder to cardiovascular disease, stroke, abnormal blood lipid profiles, diabetes, anxiety, depression, diminished cognitive functions, reduced quality of life, impaired work productivity, and an increased risk of automobile accidents.

The latest study, which spanned over a decade and included 5,821 participants, focused on the relationship between plant-based dietary patterns and insomnia risk. A traditional classification method (vegetarians and non-vegetarians) and a healthful plant-based index (hPDI) were used to define adherence to plant-based dietary patterns.

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A higher hPDI indicated increased intake of healthful plant foods, such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, and reduced intake of both unhealthful plant foods, including processed foods, and animal-based products.

Can eating meat affect your sleep?

Analysis of the participants’ dietary intake revealed that vegetarians, constituting about 29 percent of the study population, exhibited higher hPDI scores compared to non-vegetarians. 

Over the study period, 464 cases of insomnia were identified. After adjusting for potential confounders, the researchers observed a significantly lower risk of insomnia among male participants with the highest hPDI scores. However, no such association was observed among female participants. This means that the male subjects who ate more healthful plant foods had less incidence of insomnia.

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The study highlighted a significant link between the consumption of healthful plant-based foods and a lower risk of insomnia, particularly among male participants. Conversely, the consumption of animal-based foods was found to significantly increase the risk of insomnia.

Female participants, on the other hand, experienced a marginal reduction in insomnia risk with the consumption of both healthful and unhealthful plant-based foods.

How a plant-based diet reduces insomnia

The findings of this study underscore the benefits of plant-based diets in improving sleep quality and reducing the risk of insomnia. According to the scientists involved, plant-based diet rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, provide abundant sources of tryptophan and melatonin. Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin and serotonin, which is essential in regulating the sleep cycle.

Moreover, evidence suggests that plant-based diets may contribute to reducing inflammation and enhancing gut microbial composition, collectively promoting better sleep quality.

“These favorable associations are important when considering plant-based diets for their potential additional sleep benefits,” the researchers concluded.

These insights could pave the way for lifestyle interventions in addressing insomnia, offering an alternative or complementary approach to traditional treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications that induce sleep. 

What foods improve sleep quality?

Another recent study highlighted similar benefits of a healthy plant-based diet, concluding that diets highest in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes improve sleep quality. The Healthy Dance Study, published in the National Sleep Foundation’s journal Sleep Health, investigated the association between plant-based diet indices and sleep quality in Chinese middle-aged and older adults. 

Specifically, the researchers categorized plant-based diets based on three indexes covering 17 food groups: the overall plant-based diet index, healthful plant-based diet index, and unhealthful plant-based diet index. After controlling for sociodemographic, lifestyle, and multiple disease-related factors, the study concluded that unhealthy plant-based diets are significantly associated with poor sleep quality. 

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Adherence to overall plant-based diets, especially healthy plant-based diets, was positively associated with optimal sleep quality.

“Our study supports the hypothesis that higher adherence to overall plant-based diets, especially healthy plant-based diets, and lessening unhealthy plant-based diets are positively associated with better sleep quality,” the study authors concluded. 

Both studies suggest that adopting a plant-based diet may not only have positive effects on physical health but may also contribute to a good night’s sleep, potentially improving overall well-being and reducing the burden of insomnia-related health risks.

Could we include a list of foods that promote great sleep? It would be great to get some practical info from the research.

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