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Do Vegans Sleep Better? And If So, Why?

March 13, 2010

Do Vegans Sleep Better?  And If They Do, Why?

Question for the rest doctor:  My friends who became vegan say they need to sleep less.  How is that?  M.B.

Dear M.B.:

There are lots of ecological, personal, and public health reasons for people to become vegans or vegetarians. Yet I’ve never had someone tell me they wanted to become vegan because they would need to sleep less.  Here are some reasons that might be the case:

  1. Weight.  Often people who become vegan drop some pounds.  Weight is a big factor in sleep disorders like sleep apnea, whose stopped breathing episodes are far more prevalent than many know.  So you may have less awakenings from sleep if you weigh less.

Next, Alexander Vgontzas at Penn State Medical School has very interesting data on body fat and inflammation.  The fatter we are, the greater the inflammatory load, which may help explain why people with sleep apnea, as well as people with obesity, have more strokes and heart attacks.

  1. Feeling physically and mentally better.  People who pay greater attention to their diet generally move around more and are more interested in healthy behaviors.  If you feel good, you’ll sleep better.
  2. Digesting the standard American diet.  Though the data are somewhat equivocal, a high fat – high sugar dinner meal may in the short term make people sleepier, but can then interfere with sleep at night, provoking more awakenings.

Will people remember these awakenings? No, not unless they’re several minutes long – at least.  My record was a woman who walked out of the sleep lab thanking the sleep techs for her best sleep in four years.  She woke up 1200 times during the night!

People don’t generally remember their awakenings, but they will feel slower and more tired the next day.

  1. Bulk.  There is evidence that bulkier meals, in terms of fiber, may provoke more sleepiness.  Generally vegan meals will have more bulk than the standard American meal, another reason people can eventually weigh less.
  2. Better quality sleep.  Generally people have pretty well defined sleep needs, that change with age – recent data from Dirk Jan Dijk’s lab argues that older folks really do need less sleep.

However, if you have good sleep quality – less awakenings – you may feel the need for less sleep, simply because you’re sleeping better.  Healthier people do have greater sleep “efficiency” where they actually sleep more of the time they’re in bed.

So overall, this may be a difficult subject on which to do research, but there could be many reasons your  friends who became vegans sense they require less sleep.  And to promote sleep and overall health, they can also go FAR – use Food, Activity, and Rest as a rhythm for the day.  If you go for a stroll or a walk with a friend after your meal, you may A. Slow digestion B. Have less insulin peaks and fat deposition in your belly C. Control weigh better D. Get some very nice social rest with your friend.

And social rest matters – a lot.  Social support is a huge factor in keeping people well.

So food is fuel, but it’s also information.  If you can use it to promote social rest you might enjoy dining a lot,  and feel a whole lot better, physically and mentally.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. conradvisionquest permalink
    March 13, 2010 4:44 pm

    interesting post. i just recently started eating vegan and i noticed that every morning i can remember my dreams. i hardly ever remembered them before. i guess this is from sleeping more soundly? anyhoo, interesting to think about.

    • March 13, 2010 6:35 pm

      Dear Wendy,
      Generally people remember their dreams when they wake up during them. Our last hour of sleep is usually REM sleep, filled with complicated dreams. It may be from sleeping more soundly, or perhaps waking a little earlier – because your sleep is a bit more efficient, perhaps.

      Matthew Edlund

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