Josiane Broussard, PhD: Meal Timings Impact on Sleep

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At SLEEP 2024, Broussard told HCPLive about how eating time restriction can serve as another as another dietary tool for people who are unsuccessful with other strategies.

How does meal timing affect sleep? Josiane Broussard, PhD, from Ludeman Family Center for Women’s Health Research at Colorado University Anschutz School of Medicine, answered this question during an interview with HCPLive at SLEEP 2024, the 38th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Broussard presented at SLEEP on how meal timing affects cardiometabolic health and other consequences. She also presented on the right times of the day to eat.

“There's definitely been some really interesting data that shows that certain types of food [and] eating close to bedtime can actually change sleep architecture and impair your sleep a little bit,” Broussard told HCPLive.

The research came from Columbia University which demonstrated the macronutrient content of the last meal before bed can influence sleep quality. According to SLEEP Foundation, before bedtime people should avoid consuming foods that are spicy, high in fat, acidic, have caffeine, and alcohol.

Eating before bed is not always a bad thing. Eating a small evening snack can help people fall asleep and be more satiated in the morning. Good options include tart cherry juice, kiwi, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, milk and powered milk.

Although a small snack like the foods listed above can actually help people fall asleep, many including melatonin or tryptophan, a full meal before bed is not recommended.

Even though restricting food consumption at night to keep a 12-hour eating window has been shown to improve sleep, 2 papers have hinted restricting eating might be linked with less sleep.

“So, we're still trying to tease that apart,” Broussard said.

When asked what practical strategies clinicians can use to help patients optimize their mealtime, Broussard advised clinicians to think of time restricted eating as another strategy just like many dietary tools. She advised only eating during the period of 9 am to 4 pm.

“It’s not going to be the be all end all thing that cures obesity and diabetes, but I think [for people on diets] …who don't want to do [meal] tracking… that can be a really good strategy,” she said. “Maybe that will work really well for some people who…haven't had success doing other strategies.”

Restricting time eating can replace the strategy of counting calories throughout the day, although patients on eating restriction should still be mindful of their food choices.

However, early time restricted eating is not always feasible for everyone, such as parents with young families or work obligations early in the morning. Despite this, animal studies suggested any amount of restriction is linked to an improved metabolic profile.

“Let's say if eating from 9am to 4pm is impossible for you, then shifting the window but maintaining a shorter eating period may still provide benefit,” Broussard said. “Again, the research is kind of still being done on that question, but I think understanding what's feasible on top of what works you really have to understand both.”

As with meal timings impact with meal timing, not much is known yet about the relationship. Currently, Broussard and her colleagues are conducting a study assessing meal timings’ effect on sleep with nightshift workers.

They began the research with studying the relationship in healthy people to stimulate shift work, but now they are about to start recruiting actual shift workers to implement this dietary strategy. A little research has been done on this, such as in firefighters.

Broussard and her team still need to finish analyzing the data but 1 finding particularly caught her attention.

“Probably the biggest surprise is that people are totally fine not eating overnight,” Broussard said. “That was our biggest question. If we told people who were simulating nightshift work ‘you can't eat overnight while you're awake,’ we thought people would have a big problem with that, and they'd say, they were too hungry. But it turns out, it's like much more feasible than we expected. So that was I would say is like our number one finding so far, because we haven't yet done the data analysis.”

References

  1. Broussard, J, Grant, L, McHill, A. Meal Timing and Cardiometabolic Health: Consequences to Mechanisms. Session presented at SLEEP 2024. Houston, TX. June 1-5, 2024.
  2. Derman, C. Josiane Broussard, PhD: Meal Timings Effect on Cardiometabolic Health, Sleep. HCPLive. June 7, 2024. https://www.hcplive.com/view/josiane-broussard-phd-meal-timings-effect-on-cardiometabolic-health-sleep. Accessed June 7, 2024.
  3. Pacheco, D. Is Eating Before Bed Bad? Sleep Foundation. April 22, 2024. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/is-it-bad-to-eat-before-bed. Accessed April 22, 2024.
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