Eating the right diet and taking regular exercise can benefit people whose sleep is disrupted by breathing problems .
We know that exercise helps the average person get a better night’s sleep. Only recently, a study by Oregon State University showed that people get improved rest and feel more alert during the day if they exercise for at least 150 minutes total each week.
But while that research is interesting for those who are generally healthy, it doesn’t necessarily help people with sleep apnoea, a condition that causes an individual to stop breathing for frequent periods during sleep. New research from Greece, however, does indicate that walking for 30 minutes a day and adopting a Mediterranean-style diet helps reduce the frequency of these no-breathing episodes.
Researchers from the University of Crete assessed the health of 40 obese patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Half the group were asked to stick to a healthy diet; the rest were told to follow a Mediterranean-style diet.
“The high content of vegetables, fresh fruits, cereals and olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, as well as the moderate intake of wine, guarantees a high intake of ß-carotene, vitamins B6, B12, C and E, folic acid, polyphenols and various minerals, known for their antioxidant effect,” says Dr Christopher Papandreou, lead study author.
Both groups were told to increase their physical activity levels, aiming to walk for at least half an hour every day. All patients wore CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks throughout the study period, and had their sleep monitored for signs of electrical activity in the brain, eye movement and snoring at the start of the study and then six months later.
The patients who followed the Mediterranean diet had fewer apnoeas (cessation of breathing) during the rapid-eye movement stage, which accounts for around a quarter of our nightly sleep time. They were also more likely to stick to their diets and more likely to lose weight in the abdominal area.
“The Mediterranean diet promotes satiation and encourages consumption of a variety of palatable foods, optimising adherence to a caloric restricted diet,” says Papandreou. “This dietary pattern would result in greater weight loss and hence greater improvement in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome compared to a general weight reduction diet.”