Chronic Sleep Deprivation Is Associated With Nutrient Deficiencies (And Vice Versa)

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Both sleep deprivation and nutrient deficiencies are common among American adults. New research suggests these two phenomena might be related.

The study, which was recently presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Annual Meeting, Nutrition 2019, found that people who obtained fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, on average, consumed lower amounts of certain vitamins and minerals compared to people who slept more than seven hours per night.

Additionally, the study suggests that certain nutrient deficiencies may be associated with poor sleep quality, trouble falling asleep, and even sleep disorders.

“This research was inspired by the fact that most Americans fall short of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended sleep hours of 7 to 9 hours for adults 18 to 64 years,” Dr. Chioma Ikonte, lead author of the study and Director of Nutrition Sciences at Pharmavite LLC—a company that sells dietary supplements and funded this study—told Mattress Clarity via email. “A number of studies have also reported on the inadequate intakes of several micronutrients across the American population. We wanted to understand if there was a relationship between nutrient intakes and sleep outcomes.”

Previous research has suggested that micronutrients may play a significant role in a variety of bodily functions including sleep. For instance, magnesium assists in the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, while zinc may support sleep regulation. Other studies have found that poor sleep may provoke cravings for low-nutrient foods, which might contribute to a nutrient-poor diet.

Nutrient deficienciesStokkete/Shutterstock

Linking Sleep Deprivation And Nutrition

The study’s authors analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.

“We performed a cross-sectional analysis of the NHANES database from 2005 to 2016, which assessed the intake of micro and macronutrients from food and food plus supplements among individuals 19+ years who self-reported various sleep issues,” Ikonte told us. “The sample size for this study was more than 26,000 Americans.”

This analysis found that people who obtained, on average, less than seven hours of sleep per night consumed lower amounts of vitamins A, B1, and D and the minerals calcium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, and zinc.

These same nutrients were also associated with other sleep variables beyond short sleep, including trouble falling asleep, poor sleep quality, and sleep disorders.

In addition, the study found that a larger number of nutrients affected sleep quality among women relative to men. Sleep quality improved if women took dietary supplements.

“One of the surprises found in this study was the difference between male and female respondents with regards to the nutrients associated with sleep variables,” Ikonte told us. “The data showed a difference in the number of nutrients associated with the various sleep outcomes between male and female Americans. American females had more nutrients associated with sleep duration than their male counterparts. The factors driving this difference [are] unclear and would require further work to understand the driver(s) behind the observed gender differences.”


No Verdict Yet On Causation

The new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that sleep quality and nutrition may be closely linked.

“The results of this study are consistent with what has been previously reported,” Ikonte told us. “This work adds to the body of growing evidence associating specific nutrient intakes with sleep outcomes. In addition, our data provides insights on nutrient intake adequacy on sleep outcomes which have not been previously reported.”

Still, researchers have not yet determined a causal relationship between sleep and nutrition.

“At this time, research has not identified a cause and effect relationship between nutrient intake and poor sleep,” Ikonte says. “Intervention trials that investigate supplementation with these nutrients will be needed to assess the nature of the relationship between nutrient intake and sleep variables. This is an emerging area and a few studies are beginning to assess this relationship.”

In the meantime, Ikonte told us that people who are looking to improve their sleep may want to increase their intake of key vitamins and minerals.

Featured image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

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Laura Newcomer

Laura Newcomer is the Editorial Controller at Mattress Clarity, where she occasionally writes sleep news. She's worked as a professional writer and editor for over a decade and has been published in or on outlets such as TIME, Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Women's Health, and many more. Her primary areas of interest include sleep, fitness, nutrition, eco-friendly living, education, and all things wellness.