How Diet Affects Our Sleep

What we eat and drink can have more of an impact on our sleep than many people think. According to scientists, a low fibre diet, high in saturated fats, can help against nightmares and sleepwalking. Too much sugar causes us to wake up in the middle of the night more frequently. Alternatively, a balanced diet that’s high in fibre and low in refined sugars can help us fall asleep faster. A balanced diet also leads to a reduction in weight which makes us less likely to experience sleep apnoea, snoring, restlessness and insomnia.

It's no surprise then that a few, healthy adjustments to our diets will not only make us healthier, but it can also boost the quality of our sleep too.


Diets and Quality of Sleep


In recent years, a lot of new information has emerged from scientific circles concerning the correlation of sleep quality and diet, with findings applying to both children and adults. Studies have concluded that specific dietary patterns directly affect our nighttime rest periods. And in a knock-on effect, they also impact our levels of alertness during the day.


Scientists have also determined that there is a definite relationship between obesity and how long we sleep. Short sleepers, people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night, tend to eat more fast food and unhealthy snacks than people who sleep longer. They also eat a smaller variety of foods, with less protein, carbohydrates and fibre, but with more fat.


The length of time we spend asleep and the quality of that sleep have long been linked to obesity. But newer studies also connect our sleep patterns with diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular risks. One Japanese study found that eating a lot of sweets, noodles, energy drinks and sugary drinks led to poor sleep, but a high intake of fish and vegetables led to better, improved sleep. The trend seems to be that the higher the person’s carbohydrate intake, the worse their quality of sleep.


Breakfast is Best


The Japanese study went on to claim that missing breakfast and eating at irregular intervals are frequent causes of low sleep quality. The scientists also associated low protein intake with difficulty in falling asleep, as well as poor quality of sleep. The phenomenon is more pronounced in men than in women, but the reasons why this is are unclear.


A European study looked at people who ate a Mediterranean style diet. The research found that the subjects experienced less insomnia than people who ate a typical Western diet. Results strongly suggested a connection between diets that comprise a high-calorie intake and daytime sleepiness. The same research went on to show that sleep disorders go hand in hand with high-fat diets.


Foods that Promote Good Sleep


Despite the numerous sleep studies from around the globe, there is surprisingly little scientific evidence regarding which foods help us get the rest we need. One study carried out in the '70s by Horlicks claimed that test subjects who had a mug of their warm, malted beverage before going to bed slept better than those who did not. Older participants in the study also slept longer.


Why this works isn’t really clear. It’s likely that the vitamins, such as vitamin D, along with the minerals in Horlicks, worked to supplement existing deficiencies in the test subjects that are recognised as being disruptive to our sleep. Further to the Horlick's study, people who ate later at night had more trouble sleeping than those who ate earlier.


Pre Sleep Snacks and Drinks


Milk and Honey


Let's face it, a lot of us love a little nibble just before we retire for the evening. But it’s important to choose the right bedtime snack. Milk with a little honey added promotes good sleep, probably because of the tryptophan found in milk. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that increases the brain’s serotonin levels.


Turkey Sandwich


A whole grain turkey sandwich is a good bedtime snack too. It contains a combination of tryptophan and carbohydrates. Eating a banana with a glass of milk is said to promote sound sleep because it provides crucial B vitamins which assist in converting tryptophan to serotonin, a lack of which can lead to any number of sleep disorders.


Fatty Fish


Eating fatty fish such as salmon three times a week has been shown to improve the quality of our sleep, probably due to the vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids it contains. This is consistent with other studies showing that a person’s vitamin D status affects sleep quality, and sleep duration.




Eating two kiwifruits an hour before bedtime can help combat sleep disturbances and promote a healthier sleep pattern. This is probably due to their high antioxidant levels (particularly vitamin C and E) and their serotonin and folate content. Kiwifruit is one of the few fruits with a high concentration of serotonin.


Cherry Juice


Staying with fruit, drinking a cup of tart cherry juice in the morning and evening significantly helps with insomnia. The cherry juice seems to increase the body’s melatonin, while at the same time reducing inflammation.


Foods to Avoid


People who suffer from heartburn often have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime. They can also suffer from insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome. The right diet can make a big difference. Avoid big fatty meals, spicy foods, fizzy drinks and alcohol for at least 4 hours before bed. Eating late at night can delay the emptying of the stomach. Lying down when the stomach is full causes stomach acids to flow up the oesophagus, causing heartburn.


Alcohol Intake


Alcohol can help or hinder sleep, depending on how much you have.

Small quantities can help you to fall asleep more easily. However, alcohol can make insomnia worse. It seems to impair REM sleep too, which is when the body restores itself. Too much alcohol leaves you dehydrated and feeling tired the next day.



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