Good quality sleep, exercise and eating more raw fruit and vegetables predict mental health and well-being in young people, a University of Otago study has found.
Research, published Frontiers in PsychologySurveyed more than 1,100 young adults in New Zealand and the United States about their sleep, physical activity, diet and mental health.
Lead author Shaw-Ruby Wickham, who completed the study as part of her Master of Science, said the research team found sleep quality, rather than sleep quantity, was the strongest predictor of mental health and well-being.
“This is surprising because sleep recommendations mainly focus on quantity rather than quality. Although we found that too little sleep — less than eight hours — and too much sleep — more than 12 hours — were associated with higher depressive symptoms and lower well-being, sleep quality Significantly outperforms sleep quantity in predicting mental health and well-being.
“This suggests that sleep quantity as well as sleep quality should be promoted as tools for mental health and wellbeing in young adults,” said Ms Wickham.
Along with quality sleep, exercise and eating more raw fruits and vegetables — there were three modifiable behaviors that were associated with better mental health and well-being in young adults.
Young adults who slept 9.7 hours per night had the lowest depressive symptoms, and those who slept 8 hours per night had the highest sense of well-being.
Health was greatest for young adults who ate 4.8 servings of raw fruits and vegetables per day; Those who ate less than two servings and those who ate more than eight servings reported feeling less well-being.
“Sleep, physical activity and a healthy diet can be considered the three pillars of health, which can contribute to promoting optimal well-being in young adults, a population where the prevalence of mental disorders is high and well-being is suboptimal,” Ms Wickham said.
Most previous research examines these health behaviors in isolation from one another, said senior author Tamlin Conner, associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
“We’ve shown that these are important for predicting which young adults are thriving versus suffering.”
He also emphasized that the results of the study were only correlational.
“We did not manipulate sleep, activity, or diet to examine their changes in mental health and well-being. Other studies have done this and found positive benefits. Our research suggests that a ‘whole health’ intervention prioritizing sleep, exercise, exercise. And Eating fruits and vegetables together may be a logical next step in this research,” she says.