Sleep & Nutrition Part 2: Nutrition To Improve Sleep
By: Jessica Roy, MS, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Counselor and Lucy Bergeron, Nutrition Intern
As discussed in part 1, sleep and nutrition are not as separate from each other as we often think. The quality of your sleep impacts the quality of your nutrition via your metabolism, cravings, and hormones, including leptin and ghrelin, which regulate appetite, and cortisol, the stress hormone. This means missing sleep creates a cascade of negative effects on our nutrition and overall health.
For example, poor sleep will raise cortisol, making you feel stressed and inflamed. However, the reverse can also happen. A stressful lifestyle that increases cortisol will make falling asleep more difficult, continuing the cycle. Many of the connections between nutrition and sleep are a two way street, meaning they both have consequences for the other. So the question has to be asked, if good sleep supports good nutrition, what nutrition leads to better sleep?
Unsurprisingly, a well balanced diet is important. Micronutrient deprivation has been correlated to inadequate sleep- specifically lack of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. This does not prove cause and effect, but does suggest that a well rounded diet may play a role in good sleep. The Mediterranean diet, known for high vegetable content, olive oil, whole grains, and lean meat, has been found to support better sleep, as well as other positive health outcomes. A diet to avoid is one of low fibre and high sugar, which has been found to disrupt sleep.
It’s not only what you eat that matters, but also when. Avoid eating right before bed for less indigestion and a morerestfull night. Digestion requires high energy and a heavy meal can interrupt the body’s process of winding down for the night, during which digestion naturally slows. Eating before bed also increases risk of heartburn; if heartburn keeps you up at night, consider also staying away from spicy or acidic foods at dinner time. A high carbohydrate, high glycemic meal will cause drowsiness and make you fall asleep more quickly, but also leads to an increase in nighttime awakenings and a decrease in deep sleep. The simple carbohydrates in these meals quickly metabolize to sugar and cause an energy spike, which is disruptive to preferable stable blood sugar levels during sleep. Leave some time between dinner and bedtime to correct for this and choose more complex carbohydrates as part of a balanced meal.
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- Ikonte CJ, Mun JG, Reider CA, et al. (2019). Micronutrient Inadequacy in Short Sleep: Analysis of the NHANES 2005-2016. Nutrients, 11(10):23-35. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31581561/
- Muscogiuri G, Barrea L, Aprano S, et al, on behalf of the OPERA PREVENTION Project. (2020). Sleep Quality in Obesity: Does Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Matter? Nutrients, 12(5):13-64. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32397621/
- St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, et al. (2016). Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. J Clin Sleep Med, 12(1):19-24. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26156950/
- Chung N, Bin YS, Cistulli PA, et al. (2020). Does the Proximity of Meals to Bedtime Influence the Sleep of Young Adults? A Cross-Sectional Survey of University Students. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 17(8):26-77. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32295235/
- St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 938–949. From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015038/