Med Diet Linked with Better Sleep in University Students

Students with higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet reported less sleep latency, sleep disturbance and daytime dysfunction.
By Daniel Dawson
Feb. 28, 2022 14:54 UTC

University stu­dents fol­low­ing the Mediterranean diet expe­ri­enced improved over­all sleep qual­ity com­pared to their col­leagues who did not adhere to the diet, the results of a new study sug­gest.

Researchers in the United Arab Emirates fol­lowed a group of 503 stu­dents at the University of Sharjah for five months at the begin­ning of 2021.

In recent years, sleep qual­ity has decreased at an alarm­ing rate” glob­ally, with exces­sive use of screens at night largely blamed. However, the researchers wanted to inves­ti­gate the less-stud­ied link between diet and sleep qual­ity.

Previous stud­ies have demon­strated that poor sleep qual­ity is asso­ci­ated with increased risk for obe­sity, type 2 dia­betes and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. University stu­dents are among the pop­u­la­tion groups at the high­est risk for sleep dis­or­ders.

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Researchers used the Mediterranean Diet Quality Index (KIDMED), the most widely used index to assess Mediterranean diet adher­ence among young peo­ple, to deter­mine that 54 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants had medium or high adher­ence while 46 per­cent reported low adher­ence.

The stu­dents also filled out an Arabic ver­sion of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), a stan­dardly-used index among researchers that scores users on seven com­po­nents of sleep qual­ity.

Overall, 83 per­cent of stu­dents reported poor sleep qual­ity. An equal num­ber of stu­dents with medium or high MedDiet adher­ence and low adher­ence reported poor sleep qual­ity. However, two-thirds of stu­dents who reported bet­ter sleep qual­ity also reported medium or high MedDiet adher­ence.

In-depth analy­sis revealed that stu­dents with good adher­ence to the MedDiet were more likely to have a good sleep qual­ity even after adjust­ment for age and sex,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The regres­sion analy­sis also showed that those with good adher­ence to the MedDiet had a sig­nif­i­cant asso­ci­a­tion with bet­ter sub­jec­tive sleep qual­ity, less sleep latency [the time it takes to fall into a deep sleep], sleep dis­tur­bance and day­time dys­func­tion even after adjust­ment for age and sex,” they added.

While the researchers acknowl­edged that fur­ther work is required to con­firm and bet­ter under­stand why adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet is linked with bet­ter sleep qual­ity, they pro­posed a few hypothe­ses.

Previous stud­ies have demon­strated that sleep qual­ity is strongly affected” by food quan­tity and qual­ity, espe­cially with foods that exac­er­bate and alle­vi­ate inflam­ma­tion.

“[The] anti-inflam­ma­tory poten­tial of the MedDiet may help to explain, in part, the strong pos­i­tive asso­ci­a­tion between the good adher­ence to the MedDiet and the reported good sleep qual­ity com­po­nents found among our study sam­ple,” the researchers wrote.

See Also:Mediterranean Diet Linked With Long-Term Health Benefits for Teenagers

They added that wors­en­ing sleep qual­ity and increased inflam­ma­tion could cre­ate a vicious cycle.

When the bod­ily inflam­ma­tory state is increased, the sleep qual­ity is wors­ened, and when sleep qual­ity is wors­ened, the inflam­ma­tory state becomes increased,” the researchers wrote.

The rela­tion­ship between sleep and inflam­ma­tion partly comes down to cytokine secre­tion. Inadequate sleep leads to increased cytokine secre­tion, which increases inflam­ma­tion. Higher lev­els of cytokines have been repeat­edly linked with sleep depri­va­tion.

These pro-inflam­ma­tory cytokines are those con­sis­tently reported to be reduced in response to the long-term expo­sure and adher­ence to the MedDiet, as revealed by many reports,” the researchers wrote.


Along with low­er­ing inflam­ma­tion, the Mediterranean diet is also rich in fruits and veg­eta­bles that are good sources of mela­tonin. An increase in mela­tonin can improve sleep qual­ity and pre­vent some sleep dis­tur­bances.

Along with sleep qual­ity, the researchers also quizzed the stu­dents on their chrono­type – an individual’s inter­nal cir­ca­dian rhythm that plays a part in deter­min­ing whether they are a morn­ing per­son’ or night per­son.’

They found that stu­dents with a morn­ing­ness chrono­type – who wake up early, accom­plish their most impor­tant tasks in the morn­ing and go to bed early – were six times more likely to have medium or high adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet than the other two chrono­types.

As a result, 30 per­cent of stu­dents with the morn­ing­ness chrono­type reported high sleep qual­ity, while less than 11 per­cent of stu­dents with an evening­ness chrono­type reported high sleep qual­ity.

The researchers said fur­ther stud­ies inves­ti­gat­ing the rela­tion­ship of chrono­type on diet and sleep qual­ity is required before any con­clu­sions may be reached on these data points.

However, they said the study and its results were an impor­tant step in rais­ing the issue of nutri­tion and sleep among uni­ver­sity stu­dents.

Improving the knowl­edge and atti­tude of the uni­ver­sity stu­dents toward their dietary and lifestyle behav­iors, and the sig­nif­i­cance of chrono­type in deter­min­ing their future dis­ease risk fac­tors are of piv­otal impor­tance,” the researchers wrote.

Further long-term, con­trolled inter­ven­tion research works are war­ranted for more elab­o­ra­tion on the impact of chrono­type and dietary habits on sleep qual­ity,” they con­cluded.


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