September 9, 2021 — 19:02 PM
It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep affects everything from how we feel to how we perform. Sleep is essential for recovery, and according to new research published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, the recovery it provides may have some implications on diet and lifestyle choices. Here’s what they found.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland looked at data from 252 overweight adults who were also quantifiably stressed. By looking at measurements of participants’ heart rate variability during three consecutive nights of sleep, the object was to see how sleep recovery (or lack thereof) affected diet quality and alcohol consumption.
Measuring the recovery came down to the nervous system and, namely, how much time the body was in a parasympathetic versus sympathetic state during the night. As the study authors explain, the parasympathetic nervous system helps our bodies relax and recover as we sleep—while the sympathetic nervous system is associated with stress and the well-known state of “fight or flight.”
Based on the findings, more sleep spent in a parasympathetic state was associated with a healthier diet (food-wise and habit-wise), as well as lower alcohol consumption. Participants who had better stress balance while sleeping also reported higher fiber intake and greater dietary self-control compared to those with worse stress balance while sleeping.
“Higher parasympathetic activity during sleep [was] associated with less eating cued by physical vs. emotional reasons,” the study authors explain, adding, “this further strengthens the notion that dietary choices are associated with the balance between stress and recovery reactions.”
The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about*
As the study authors note, experts still don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind the association between sleep, recovery, diet, and lifestyle choices.
It could be that diet is actually influencing recovery in sleep, as opposed to the other way around—but at the very least, it seems healthy habits like good sleep hygiene and a quality diet can build upon each other, further indicating the importance of approaching well-being from all angles.
Bottom line: These findings are yet another good reason to focus on quality sleep and a healthy diet.