November 9, 2021

Why you should consider the Mediterranean Diet if you have sleep apnea

Posted by Jessica Penner

Mediterranean Food on Table

The Mediterranean Diet is the superhero of diets. It consistently comes out on top in expert rankings… for good reason! There’s a ton of science showing that it reduces the risk of chronic disease, increases the quality of life, and increases longevity as well. It gives all these benefits while being one of the easiest diets to follow long term. This brings to mind an old saying that’s actually true: the best diet is the one you can stick to.

There’s also evidence to show that the Mediterranean Diet could help you get a better night’s sleep!

What is this ‘miracle’ Mediterranean Diet?

The traditional Mediterranean Diet is based on the historic food habits of people in the Mediterranean region. It’s a predominantly plant-based diet that includes moderate amounts of fish, eggs, poultry, and dairy, with olive oil as its main source of added fat. Meats and sweets are enjoyed sparingly.

How does it affect sleep apnea?

After 6 months on the Mediterranean Diet, one study observed that participants with obstructive sleep apnea had fewer apneas during REM sleep. The diet is known to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which in turn, could help improve upper airway muscle strength.

In this study, older adults who followed the Mediterranean Diet were more likely to continue to get a good night’s sleep three years later, compared to those who did not follow the diet. Other studies have also found a correlation between sleep quality and adherence to the Mediterranean Diet.

It’s difficult to tell whether better sleep quality is a direct benefit of the foods found in this diet, or indirectly caused by lower body fat. The Mediterranean Diet is correlated with lower body weight, so a lower body weight may end up being the actual cause of improved sleep.

Regardless of the exact mechanism, the Mediterranean Diet is a healthful, sustainable diet that shows a lot of promise in improving sleep quality. Without any known downsides, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pursue this healthy eating pattern!

Getting started on the Mediterranean Diet

If this has got you wanting to move to Italy, go for it, but you don’t have to move to a Mediterranean country to start eating the Mediterranean way!  The principles behind this are cross-cultural and can be applied to the foods and cuisines you know and love.

Here are several ways you can align your diet more closely with the Mediterranean Diet. You don’t have to go full Mediterranean right away! Gradual steps can make big health differences over the long haul!

Fish Friday

Start by choosing one day of the week to make a habit of eating fish or other seafood. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish are anti-inflammatory and are terrific for brain and nerve health.

Include Aromatics

I’ve never met a meal that didn’t taste better with garlic or onions! Even if a recipe doesn’t call for it, add sautéed garlic and/or onions to your main dishes.

Meatless Monday

This study specifically found that women who ate more legumes (such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils) had better sleep quality. Try switching out the meat in your meal for a plant-based protein once a week.

Fruits and Vegetables

Plan your meals to include at least one fruit or vegetable. Bonus points for extra veggies!

Nuts and Olive Oil

Snack on nuts, and use olive oil in your cooking! The people in the Mediterranean region don’t shy away from incorporating these healthy sources of fat into their everyday living.

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