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The Link Between Nutrition and Sleep

Your eating habits can be crucial for quality sleep. Learn how your food choices and your meal timing can make a difference.


There’s a connection between nutrition and sleep.

For example, diets low in fiber and high in saturated fat may decrease the amount of deep, restorative sleep you’ll get. Excess sugar can cause you to awaken more frequently. Consuming certain foods and beverages close to bedtime can also lead to poor sleep.

If you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, the culprit could be what you’re choosing to eat and drink.

What to Avoid

Fatty or high-protein foods: Because digestion naturally slows when you sleep, going to bed too soon after eating a steak dinner or other high-protein foods can lead to disrupted sleep, since your stomach will feel uncomfortably full. Foods high in saturated fat have a similar disruptive effect on sleep patterns.

Spicy foods: Spicy foods can cause painful heartburn that could make it difficult to lie down comfortably, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Heartburn can also worsen the effects of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), as the backed-up acid can create more irritation in your airway. Some spicy foods can raise your body temperature, forcing your body to work harder to cool down enough to fall asleep; feeling too warm in bed may also disrupt your sleep patterns throughout the night.

Caffeine: Drinking caffeine late in the day has long been known as a potential sleep disrupter for many people, since it’s a stimulant designed to keep you alert. But be aware that caffeine can be hidden in other foods as well, such as chocolate and even ice cream, so check the ingredients. 

Alcohol: Winding down with a glass of wine or a beer at dinner can be a pleasurable experience, but not so much when you’re getting ready to sleep. Once the effects of alcohol wear off, you’ll likely find yourself waking suddenly and struggling to go back to restful sleep. Alcohol can also worsen OSA symptoms. 

Go ahead and enjoy flavorful foods and drinks, but note that fatty and high-protein foods and alcohol close to bedtime can affect your sleep, so consume them in moderation. And cutting off caffeine in the afternoon is a good idea since caffeine’s effects can last up to six hours, and sometimes even longer if the beverage is high in caffeine.


What to Choose Instead

If you need a snack before bedtime, consider complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal or whole-wheat toast, which digest easily. 

Healthy eating habits overall will encourage healthier sleeping patterns. Consuming a high-fiber diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins—while avoiding foods with added sugars—is ideal. Look for foods high in B vitamins; B vitamins are believed to help regulate melatonin. Foods rich in B vitamins include fish, lean poultry and meat, legumes, eggs, and dairy.

A healthy diet can also help you lose weight, which can in turn lead to better sleep and make you less likely to suffer from daytime fatigue, insomnia, and OSA. 

The takeaway? Good eating habits can go hand in hand with getting a good night’s sleep for a healthier you.