How Our Culture’s Changing Diets Could Be Affecting the Way We Sleep

fast food at the office

Author: Sara Westgreen

How Our Culture’s Changing Diets Could Be Affecting the Way We Sleep

What and how you eat can affect how well you sleep. Eat a big meal (or the wrong meal) before
bed, and you could have trouble falling asleep. Go to bed hungry, and you’ll have the same
problem. You can even have difficulty staying asleep if you’re short on essential vitamins. And
unfortunately, the diet maintained by many Americans today isn’t one that’s good for sleep.

How the Typical American Diet Can Hurt Sleep
Some of the worst foods for sleep include:
 Overly fatty foods
 Sugary junk food
 Spicy food
 Alcohol
 Caffeine (coffee, soda, tea, chocolate)

Unfortunately, many Americans are eating these sleep-disrupting foods. Often, the American
diet includes more sugary foods, fewer healthy fats (and more unhealthy fats), lots of caffeine,
and eating on the go more often than sitting down to a healthy meal at home.

Overly fatty foods can disrupt sleep and upset your circadian rhythm, causing you to sleep more
during the day and getting hungrier at night. A diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat is
associated with lighter sleep and more nighttime awakenings.

With sugary desserts and junk foods, you may be more susceptible to late night cravings and
overeating. Of course, these foods are bad news any time of day.

Although caffeine consumption is not usually a problem for sleep if it’s consumed early in the
day, it is a problem in the hours before bedtime. If you’re drinking coffee in the afternoon or
evening, it can make it difficult to get to bed at night.

Eating spicy foods at night can increase your internal body temperature, but your temperature
needs to be lowered for restful sleep. And often, spicy foods have higher fat levels, which
require more time for your body to process. When you eat this kind of food too close to bedtime,
your body will use energy for digestion rather than healthy, restful sleep.

How Food Can Help You Sleep Better
Although food can make it difficult to sleep, food can also make it easier to sleep better.
Consuming foods rich in certain vitamins and amino acids can help you get a better night’s
sleep, including:

 Tryptophan

 Melatonin

 Complex carbohydrates

 Healthy fats

 Calcium

 B6

 Magnesium


Amino acid tryptophan helps your body produce serotonin, which creates melatonin, the
hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. Foods rich in tryptophan (and protein) include
milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish, beans, and turkey.

Carbohydrates also encourage tryptophan production, and carbohydrate (or tryptophan) rich
foods can improve sleep quality, especially when paired with a healthy fat. Complex carbs, or
those with a higher glycemic index, can help you fall asleep faster and keep your blood sugar
stable through the night.

Vitamins from your food can influence your sleep as well. Calcium and magnesium can help
support undisturbed sleep. The vitamin B6 helps your body produce melatonin, a hormone that
signals to your body that it’s time to fall asleep. Melatonin is also found in foods.

Foods That Support Healthy Sleep
If you’d like to improve your diet to support healthier sleep, consider these foods that are rich in
vitamins, tryptophan, melatonin, healthy fats, and more:

 Milk
 Cheese
 Eggs
 Nuts
 Fish
 Beans
 Rice
 Bread
 Pasta
 Potatoes
 Yogurt
 Leafy greens
 Cherries
 Walnuts
 Bananas
 Oats
 Tomatoes
 Raw garlic
 Pistachios
 Almonds
 Chickpeas
 Whole grains


Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size
bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she
enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.

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