Improving Sleep With Nutrition

The relationship between sleep and food

There is a bi-directional relationship between sleep and food in which good sleep makes eating healthy easier and good nutrition can also make good sleep easier. Studies have shown that if people have good quality sleep they generally show better fat loss and or muscle gain progress. [1] Lack of sleep can contribute to increased hunger cues and cravings causing individuals to consume more calories and high energy dense foods. In addition, if people get poor sleep, they are more likely to feel sleepy and tired the next day causing them to eat or drink to stay awake to help them continue their day to day activities.

Food that can affect sleep

  • Caffeine

Caffeine has been shown to block a sleep promoting chemical which can directly affect sleep. Caffeine in your body can last between 1.5-9 hours depending on the individual so it is important and advisable to stop consuming a large amount of caffeine at least by 12pm. [2] However, this would also be dependent on the individual, if they are a fast metaboliser or not to determine how much caffeine they can handle.

  • Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown to help our brains wind down which is determined by how magnesium is processed in our bodies. Studies have shown that magnesium deficiency has been show to negatively affect sleep. [3] Therefore, aiming to include magnesium rich food in your diet such as dark green leafy vegetables, yoghurt, low fat milk, soy beans, lentils, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, wheat bran, oats can help increase magnesium in your diet. If not, a suitable magnesium supplement can be taken if prescribed by your doctor.

  • Carbohydrate intake and timing

Some research suggests that eating a higher carbohydrate meal or snack 1-4 hours before bed has been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. [4] Nevertheless, this is minor and there is individual variation as well depending on other lifestyle factors like alcohol intake, stress, physical activity, acid reflux, mental health illnesses and other medical conditions etc.

  • Being excessively satiated or full

Some people find it difficult to fall asleep if they are excessively full as they may have acid reflux, stomach discomfort which can be worsened by lying down too soon after eating. Therefore, it is vital to personalize and understand what works for you to help improve sleep.

  • Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea has calming effects due to its flavonoid content which can cause muscle relaxation and sleep. [5] Nevertheless, this can differ from individual to individual, but worth trying if you’re struggling with sleep.

  • Tart cherry juice

Tart cherries contain tryptophan and can also lead to an increase in melatonin production which is important to promote sleep in our bodies. Studies have shown that consuming tart cherry juice 1-2 hours before bed can help to improve sleep. [6]

  • Fibre, fat and sugar

Studies have shown that people who consume a diet rich in high fat, sugar and low fibre intake have a lower vitamin and mineral intake and tend to consume a high calorie dense diet and have disturbed sleep compared to people who consume a diet low in fat and high in protein. [7]

If you’re struggling with sleep do pay attention to your diet and try to see if there are any changes or additions you can make to improve sleep. In addition, don’t forget to consider and tackle the other factors that can also trigger poor sleep such as stress, anxiety, depression, levels of physical activity, our environment along with hormonal imbalances and medical conditions.


  1. Ness-Abramof R. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Yearbook of Endocrinology. 2011;2011:88-89.
  2. Pharmacology of Caffeine. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). 2001.
  3. Depoortere H, Françon D, Llopis J. Effects of a Magnesium Deficient Diet on Sleep Organization in Rats. Neuropsychobiology. 1993;27(4):237-245.
  4. St-Onge M, Mikic A, Pietrolungo C. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(5):938-949.
  5. Miraj S, Alesaeidi S. A systematic review study of therapeutic effects of Matricaria recuitta chamomile (chamomile). Electronic physician. 2016;8(9):3024-3031.
  6. Pigeon W, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis M. Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: A Pilot Study. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2010;13(3):579-583.
  7. St-Onge M, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury A. Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2016;12(01):19-24.

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