How Diet Affects Your Sleep (And Sleep Affects Your Diet)

Not sleeping well? It could be something you ate. Generally speaking, sleeping well can help you eat well — and eating well can help you sleep well. Of course, it’s not always that simple, but doing well with one can support doing well with the other.

Let’s start with how diet can have an influence on your sleep. If you’ve ever had a big meal before bed and struggled to get to sleep, you know how food can affect your sleep. The same is true for heartburn and acid reflux, which could keep you up at night. Sleep issues from food could stem from more than being too full or eating spicy foods at night, though.

Caffeine and alcohol can play part, too. When you consume caffeine (like a coffee or even a dark chocolate bar), you might feel too energized to sleep. When you drink alcohol, you might feel tired — but the sleep that follows after drinking is likely to be shallow and less satisfying than if you went to bed sober.

Certain diets can cause issues with sleeping, particularly low carb diets. Carbs help induce sleep by supporting production of serotonin and tryptophan. So if you’re not consuming much in the way of carbs, you can experience diet induced insomnia. However, this is only typical in the first few nights, and once your body adjust to your new diet, you should go back to a normal sleep schedule. Of course, if it persists, you might need to get back to eating more carbs.

Overall, a healthy diet is good news for healthy sleep. Some of the best foods for healthy sleep are dairy products, nuts, lean proteins like fish, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains — all part of what you’d expect from a good diet plan. Some of the worst foods for sleep are junk food, like overly fatty or sugary foods that you’re likely to mostly avoid on a healthy diet.

But how can good sleep help you with a healthy diet? It has a lot to do with hunger hormones and self control. Sleep deprivation simultaneously reduces your production of leptin (the satisfied hormone) and increases production of ghrelin (the hungry hormone). So when you haven’t slept well, your body gets a signal that you’re hungry and unsatisfied — suggesting you should eat more even when that’s not really the case.

This problem is compounded by lowered self control when you’re tired. You may be irritable and your defenses aren’t up. You might even feel moody and turn to food to improve your mood. So when you’re faced with temptation (and sleep deprived), it’s a lot tougher to say no. In fact, if you sleep less than five hours per night, you’re more likely to consume more calories, more carbohydrates overall, and less water. And if you’re tired, do you think you’ll have the energy to exercise those extra calories off?

Though food and sleep can certainly work together to make things go wrong, there’s a lot they can do to make things go right. When you sleep well at night, you’re better prepared to turn down temptations of food you know you should avoid. You can make better choices, eating foods that not only make you healthier overall, but can help support healthy sleep.

Support a healthy diet with good sleep. If you’re not getting enough good quality sleep at night, try following a regular sleep routine and schedule. Make your bedroom a healthy sleep environment with quiet or white noise, darkness, and a comfortable place to sleep.

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Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

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