Does Eating Healthy Help You Sleep Better?
Eating healthy affects both our mental and physical health, which both in turn affect our sleep quality.
With that being said, there are constantly new studies being done trying to figure out exactly how much our diets affect sleep, and how things like meal timing factors in.
There are basically 2 questions we’re going to look at here:
- Are traditional “healthy” foods like vegetables helpful for sleeping better?
- Is junk food (i.e. fried foods or high sugar) detrimental to sleep?
How Does Eating Healthy Affect How Well You Sleep?
There are 2 main things that healthy foods do for you that can affect sleep:
- Weight control - Being overweight is a big risk factor for insomnia. Healthy foods contain fewer calories and more fiber, leading to less overeating, and a lower chance of being overweight.
- Essential nutrients - Healthy foods are typically considered healthy because they are packed with vitamins and minerals. Certain nutrients promote the production of certain important sleep hormones (e.g. serotonin), so it’s important to get enough of them. There’s ample evidence that lacking certain nutrients (e.g. calcium, magnesium, iron) can harm sleep, like the link between calcium deficiencies and insomnia.
Certain foods also have certain nutrients that happen to promote sleep. Let’s look at a few of those cases:
- Fruit - Fruits like bananas can actually help insomnia. In this case, the carbohydrates in bananas increase tryptophan production, which increases melatonin production (which is sleep promoting). Other fruits also have this effect.
- Fish oil - Whether from fish or omega 3 supplements, the omega 3 fats in fish oil can improve sleep and overall health in many cases.
- Green tea - Contains a significant amount of the amino acid L-theanine, which promotes sleep. Here’s a detailed review of the evidence that green tea can help sleep.
SummaryThe whole reason “healthy” foods are healthy is because they have the nutrients that help our bodies run smoothly, which of course affects sleep.
How Does Junk Food Affect Sleep Quality?
Not all junk food is equally bad, and having a few cookies once in awhile isn’t going to turn someone into an insomniac.
However, there is evidence that regular consumption of junk food can contribute to insomnia.
There’s also the fact that a lot of people aren’t aware of how much junk food they actually eat (e.g. sugar is in a lot of surprising foods).
We’re going to look at the impact of certain unhealthy foods on sleep here.
Sugar and Sleep
While a small amount of sugar isn’t likely to cause problems, there are several ways that a moderate to large amount of sugar in a diet can contribute to sleep problems.
Some of the ways sugar can impact sleep includes:
- Depleting magnesium
- Affecting blood glucose levels
- Increasing inflammation
- Promoting overeating
Processed Carbohydrates Like White Bread
White bread is right on the edge of what most nutritionists consider junk food.
It has a high glycemic load, and it doesn’t have much in the way of nutrition.
Other baked goods typically include a lot of sugar as well and are obviously junk foods.
There’s evidence that high carbohydrate diets lead to poorer sleep quality, and the main reason is that they typically include a lot of refined carbohydrates like bread.
With that being said, healthier carbohydrates (e.g. fruit, even whole wheat bread) eaten a few hours before bed can actually promote sleep.
Fried Foods and Other High Fat Foods
There are good fats (e.g. seeds, nuts, fish) and bad fats (e.g. the kind used in fried foods).
Fried foods are high in fat, calories, and salt.
Deep fried foods typically contain trans fats as well, which are bad for your health in many different ways. It’s one of the few aspects of nutrition that is exceptionally clear.
Because they are so high in fat, fried foods are particularly bad to eat in the evening, as they take much longer to digest.
Add in the fact that most also contain quite a bit of sugar, and it makes fried foods even worse for sleep quality.
Caffeine and Sleep
Caffeine in reasonable doses doesn’t typically impact sleep negatively.
One study found:
Individuals who consumed on average >3 cups of coffee had the highest incidence of chronic insomnia.
I’ve written a detailed summary of how caffeine affects insomnia, but one of the most interesting things to highlight is how long it takes to get caffeine out of your system.
Even if you have caffeine first thing in the morning, only 75% is gone 12 hours later.
So if you’re having mid-day coffees, it’s certainly having an impact on your sleep.
Note that different people have different levels of sensitivity to caffeine. So even though most people can have about 3 cups of coffee before it really starts to affect their sleep, that doesn't mean that everyone can.
Summary: Does Eating Healthy Improve Sleep Quality?
There are certainly unhealthy foods that can cause sleep problems in the short term, especially if you eat fried foods or chocolate right before trying to sleep.
However, the bigger concern is that eating healthy is necessary for good long-term sleep quality.
Many of the impacts of eating large amounts of junk food show up over time, and poor sleep quality is a fairly common side effect of those impacts.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.