What and how much should we eat to sleep better?

If You Want to Sleep Better, Eat Healthier

We all know that there is a relationship between what we eat and how we sleep, but how does the diet influence the sleep patterns?


A team of researchers conducted by Michael Grandner, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), tried to discover if the differences in the diet  determine how many hours people sleep overnight. The answer was searched in the data from NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), an annual national survey that is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey selected a representative sample of the US population, by age and demographics. The data about diet and sleep were gathered in interviews with specially trained staff, allowing the researchers to determine how many calories, what kind of foods were eaten and how many hours each person slept.

The research grouped subjects into 4 categories:

  • very short sleep – less than 5 hours a night;
  • short sleep – 5 to 6 hours a night;
  •  standard or normal sleep – 7 to 8 hours a night;
  •  long sleep – 9 hours or more a night.

It was observed that people who sleep 7 – 8 hours each night differ in terms of their diet, compared to people who sleep less or more. Short sleepers consume the most calories, followed by normal sleepers. The very short sleepers and long sleepers eat the lowest calorie diets. People who eat a wide variety of foods sleep 7-8 hours each night, while those who eat a limited variety of foods, sleep less.

The study also flagged the fact that people who are sleeping less and those who are sleeping too long have health problems. For example, the short sleep duration might be associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

What and how much should we eat to sleep better?

It would be ideal to identify the mix of nutrients and calories that can promote healthy sleep.

Compared to the diet of the normal sleep group, Grandner observed that:

  • Very short sleepers drank less tap water, lycopene and carbohydrates.
  • Short sleepers consume less vitamin C, tap water, selenium, and more lutein/zeaxanthin.
  • Long sleepers eat less foods containing choline, theobromine, dodecanoic acid, and carbohydrates, and consume more alcohol.

We may conclude that, if we want to sleep better, we should concentrate our diet on healthier foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Colorful vegetables, especially those red and orange are the best; moderate consumption of green, leafy vegetables, which are rich in lutein/zeaxanthin, is recommended; you should eat: pumpkin, avocado, walnuts, almonds, halibut, peaches, oats, potatoes, buckwheat and bananas, because they are high in tryptophan.
  • More plant based carbohydrates: They produce a steady rise in insulin that helps the tryptophan enter the brain. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps induce sleepiness.
  • Smaller quantities of simple carbohydrates- Consumed before bedtime, simple carbohydrates lead to restless sleep, because they raise the blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Moderate quantities of skim milk (one glass), before bedtime: Milk also contain tryptophan, which help you sleep better.
  •  Foods rich in minerals and choline: shellfish and lean meat, eggs, soy and soy products;
  • Moderate amounts of coffeine and theobromine, present in coffee, chocolate, soda and tea.
  • Very small amounts of fat or no fats at all. A high-fat meal in the evening can cause you indigestion and heartburn, so you will sleep less and restless.

 sleep eating disorder

Besides all these recommendations, you should try to eat dinners nor too big, nor too small. A light snack at bedtime can promote sleep, but too much food can cause digestive discomfort that leads to wakefulness.









Read more:

  • www.rd.com
  • “Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample”; Michael A. Grandner, Nicholas Jackson, Jason R. Gerstner, Kristen L. Knutson; Appetite Volume 64, 1 May 2013, Pages 71–80;


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