Or so I thought. New research to be presented at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies next month suggests that fatty foods, far from increasing alertness, actually make us sleepy instead.
“Increased fat consumption has an acute adverse effect on alertness of otherwise healthy, non-obese adults,” said lead investigator Alexandros Vgontzas, MD and professor of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, quoted in usnew.com.
Who knew? Not me. I try to keep a lid on my consumption of fatty foods for health reasons and to avoid gaining weight. (I’m a member of the “Thinks They’re Always Gaining Weight Club”—never mind if it’s really true. How could I be otherwise when my role model growing up was Twiggy?) But I let my guard down when I’m exhausted and in need of an energy boost. So discovering that foods I’ve relied on to increase my alertness might actually be making me sleepier and duller feels like a betrayal. What gives?
New Research on Food and Alertness
Thirty-one healthy normal sleepers participated in this study, aimed at ascertaining if people’s food intake has an immediate effect on their actual sleepiness. The subjects spent four nights and a day in a sleep lab hooked up to a machine that recorded their brainwaves.
On day 4 of the experiment, subjects were told to take a nap five times during the day. They ate a meal after each nap and, when it came time for the next nap, investigators recorded how long it took them to fall asleep to see if there was a relationship between the type of food eaten and how quickly the subjects fell asleep.
Adjusting for several factors, investigators found that
- Meals high in fatty foods caused people to fall asleep more quickly
- Meals high in carbohydrates kept them alert longer
- Meals high in protein did not appear to impact sleepiness one way or the other.
In light of these results, I’m going to have to rethink this quick energy thing. Can I steer clear of the Gorgonzola and the corn chips in favor of an apple or a slice of bread? The idea isn’t so appealing, and who knows what I’ll be inclined to do the next time I’m slogging along after a bad night.
Still, if energy and alertness is what we’re after (and most of the time, this is the main sleep-related issue for me), then maybe it’s time to come up with a few new options for that mid-afternoon pick-me-up after all.
What foods help the most when you need quick energy?