Study Finds Vegetarians May Have Lower Risk of Insomnia

Study Finds Vegetarians May Have Lower Risk of Insomnia
13.01.2024
  • Chronic insomnia is linked to negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions.
  • While there are many causes of insomnia, researchers have recently learned more about how diet may impact insomnia.
  • New data suggests following a plant-based diet may reduce insomnia incidence, but more data is needed to confirm this link.

Insomnia is a frustrating condition to deal with. It can be especially frustrating to pinpoint the root cause, which varies from person to person. For some, insomnia may be a result of stress, caffeine, or excessive screen time. For others, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition that should be diagnosed by a healthcare provider.

One modifiable risk factor that researchers are learning more about is what you eat.

New data published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the dietary pattern you follow may impact your sleep habits.

Data Shows Eating Habits May Impact Insomnia Risk

Preventing and treating insomnia isn’t just important for the sake of daily functioning. Chronic insomnia is linked to many negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

To learn more about what causes insomnia and what might prevent it, researchers in Taiwan recruited 5,821 participants who did not have insomnia and evaluated their dietary choices and insomnia incidence.

Results showed that 464 of the study participants developed insomnia, and of those, the risk was lower in vegetarians versus meat eaters. Males who followed a more healthful plant-based diet had a reduced incidence of insomnia. This relationship was not seen among females.

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The authors of the study, who did not respond to requests for comment, suggest a vegetarian diet may positively affect sleep because many plant-based foods are rich sources of sleep-supporting compounds, like melatonin.

Past data published in the Annual Review of Nutrition has highlighted this potential relationship between healthy sleep and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other sources of dietary tryptophan and melatonin.

Prior research also suggests that vegetarian diets may help reduce chronic inflammation, an effect that may positively impact sleep. Specifically, the Mediterranean dietary pattern, known for its anti-inflammatory effects, is linked to improved sleep and reduced insomnia.

The link between sleep and plant-based eating might not necessarily be direct. For instance, data published in Scientific Reports links a vegetarian diet to improved mood, which might improve sleep quality by moderating mental health, including depression condition.

It is important to note that the available data linking diet to insomnia are mostly observational in nature, and correlation does not mean causation.

If you’re following or thinking about following mainly a plant-based diet, be mindful of your food choices. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts will support your sleep health and your overall health more than choices like plant-based protein nuggets, which are ultra-processed.

How to Support Quality Sleep

According to Karman Meyer, RD, author of “Eat to Sleep: What to Eat & When to Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep,” looking at what someone eats during the day is a crucial step in determining why they can’t sleep at night.

“What I often find working with clients is that a few small dietary changes are needed to help with better sleep,” Meyer told Verywell.

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Some steps she encourages her clients to try include:

  • Adding more leafy greens, nuts, and seeds for magnesium
  • Incorporating melatonin-rich foods (like walnuts) rather than relying on melatonin supplements
  • Backing off caffeine, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates, which can disrupt quality sleep

Still, dietary changes should not be the only line of defense when trying to combat insomnia.

“Currently, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as the first line of treatment rather than sleeping medications,” Meyers said. “This type of therapy can help improve sleep habits and behaviors by reshaping thoughts around sleep and current practices that could affect a person’s ability to sleep well.”

Meyers added that combining CBT-I with a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity can make a huge difference in overall health and sleep patterns.

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