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Men: Cut the Fat for Better Sleep and Less Daytime Sleepiness

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A fatty diet may be hurting men's sleep, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Their recent study found that men who consumed diets high in fat were more likely to feel sleepy during the day and to sleep poorly at night. 

The men who ate poorly were also more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing is temporarily interrupted, often dozens of times per hour.

“After adjusting for lifestyle factors and chronic diseases, we found that those who consumed the highest fat intake were more likely to experience daytime sleepiness," explains lead study author Yingting Cao. She and her colleagues published their findings in the April 2016 issue of the journal Nutrients.

This connection is important because people who sleep poorly are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, experts say.

Eat Less Fat, Get Better Sleep

For the study, the researchers had 1,800 Australian men aged 35 to 80 to complete questionnaires about their sleep and dietary habits for a year. They also arranged for many of the men to take a home sleep study to test for sleep apnea.

They found that the men whose fat consumption was in the top quarter of the group were 78 percent more likely to suffer from daytime sleepiness compared with the men in the bottom quarter for fatty food consumption.

Those in the group with the greatest fat consumption were almost three times more likely to have sleep apnea compared with those who ate the least fatty foods.

"Poor sleep and feeling sleepy during the day means you have less energy," explained Cao, a University of Adelaide doctoral candidate, in a statement. “This in turn is known to increase people's cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, which is then associated with poor sleep outcomes. The poor diet-and-sleep pattern can become a vicious cycle."

From Science to Society

Cao and her colleagues did a cross-sectional epidemiological study, which can be thought of as a snapshot of what a large number of people are doing during a short period of time. That snapshot can show a connection between people's behavior and a given health result, but it can't really show cause-and-effect with certainty.

Cao's team tried to weed out coincidences by taking into account many other reasons the men in the study could have had poor sleep. These included age, waist circumference, energy intake, education, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, shift work, depression, diabetes and medication.

These findings were part of a larger study that examined different aspects of men's health. “That means the findings may not apply to women," Cao notes.

Additionally, the researchers' analysis did not differentiate between more healthful fats, like those found in nuts and salmon, and artery-clogging, trans-fat-laden items like fast food and processed meats.

Based on these caveats, you may be wondering if it makes sense to reduce the amount of fat in your diet in order to improve your sleep.

Even though Cao's findings don't guarantee that you'll sleep better if you trim your fat intake, it's a reasonable bet. “Everyone knows that diet has an important effect on health," she told the New York Times. “Extremely high fat intake is not good for sleep. So the key message here is to eat healthy."

And, if your sleep improves, consider it a bonus.

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