Investigations

Investigation 5

In this investigation, I’d like to continue along the lines of my previous investigation about fitness and human health. Keeping in mind the theme of the science of food, I would like to explore the common saying “You are what you eat” in light of a new study released by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. (If you’re interested in reading the full study, here it is.)

It’s common knowledge that sleep, nutrition, and physical activity are all key players in determining our health. Clearly, short periods of sleep are associated with a myriad of health consequences, including but not limited to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other problems. On the other hand, long periods of sleep are just as bad, and are associated with both poor physical and mental health. Although nutrition and physical activity play obvious roles in our diet, not much is known about the connection between sleep and diet. At least, not until now.

Previous studies have shown that short periods of sleep may be associated with increased eating as well as unhealthy eating habits, particularly in adolescents. In a study among European adolescents, it was found that individuals who slept less than 8 hours a night had more unhealthy eating habits. A similar study was conducted in Japanese adolescents, in which shorter periods of sleep were associated with preferences for fatty foods, skipping breakfast, and eating outside home. Studies that examined the role of diet and sleep times have found that individuals who go to sleep late at night not only slept less, but also ate more calories after 8:00 pm – namely from fat intake rather than proteins or carbohydrates.

According to this new study, there are specific nutrients that may have an important role in how long we sleep, and that a diet consisting of a large variety of foods promotes the healthiest sleeping patterns. In the study, it was found that normal periods of sleep (7-8 hours a night) was associated with individuals who ate a greater variety of foods, whereas short (5-6 hours a night) and long (greater than 9 hours a night) periods of sleep were associated with individuals who ate less varied diets. Additional associations were found among specific nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

The following table shows a summary of the study’s results. Click on the table to full view it!

table

Clearly, this is a relevant challenge to our community. As the study concludes, more follow-up research is needed in order to find additional evidence of these dietary trends, as well as figure out what an “ideal” diet might be in terms of sleep patterns. Such a diet would provide immense implications for our health, and may even lead to healthy dietary habits as well as improved well-being. However, for a start, I think it is necessary to establish good sleeping habits in addition to eating habits. As shown in the study, individuals who slept the least (less than 5 hours a night) were prone to eating more carbohydrates and sugars than the other sleep pattern groups. It has been proven time and time again that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars leads to obesity and other health problems. On this note, a key goal would be to encourage others to cut back on these nutrient groups, and increase protein and fiber intake instead. Another goal would be to encourage better sleeping habits. As a college student, I understand that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get schoolwork done, spend time with friends, sleep, eat, and relax. However, the effects of late-night studying – or just staying up late in general – are dire for one’s health, especially when accompanied by caffeine in order to stay awake. Yet, most people who find themselves dependent on caffeine to get through their day cannot stop drinking coffee or sodas very easily – simply because they have grown addicted to it, and they “crash” as soon as they try to stop.

For students, I believe a good approach to encourage better sleeping habits would be to provide advice or ideas on how to fall asleep easier and longer. This could be accomplished by surveying students on their average amount of sleep each night, and giving them tips to improve their habits. The sheer number of students on any campus is too overwhelming to give such customized advice, so maybe a digital version of a survey accompanied with personalized feedback would be best. Word about a website could be spread quickly by means of the Internet, flyers, posters, etc. A similar approach could be undertaken to improve dietary habits. (Maybe a site could be made for both? After all, sleeping and eating are intertwined with regards to our health and well-being.)

I actually went ahead and made an infographic in an attempt to condense the results of the University of Pennsylvania’s results as well as discuss the basics of how sleep works. Click on the picture to full view it!

Image

I know that the sleep cycle diagram in the infographic is hard to read due to size restrictions. So, here it is, in full, as well as the article that the diagram originally came from.

29021602

I hope that this post was worth reading! Stay tuned for more interesting things!

References

Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J.R., Knutson, K.L. “Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample.” Appetite. 20 January 2013. Web. 1 March 2013. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019566631300024X#.

Mikulski, J. “Eat to Dream: Penn Study Shows Dietary Nutrients Associated with Certain Sleep Patterns.” Penn Medicine. 6 February 2013. Web. 1 March 2013. http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2013/02/grandner/.

“Sleep and Dreaming: The how, where, and why.” New Scientist. 5 February 2013. Web. 1 March 2013. http://www.newscientist.com/special/sleep.

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