Can’t Sleep? Check Your Diet!

by | Last updated Jan 11, 2024 | Recharge Your Health

Can’t Sleep? Check Your Diet!

Inadequate and poor quality sleep can contribute to the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. What we need is sufficient and uninterrupted time in slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). During slow-wave sleep there is an extra boost in growth hormone. This valuable hormone improves the ability of your cells to make proteins, enzymes, and antibodies. The results? Better repair in muscle and joints, a brighter mind, improved digestion, a more effective immune system. Both REM and SWS help to consolidate memory. What we eat impacts the quality of our sleep.

Check Your Carbs

Sugar hurts the quality of your sleep. Eating less fiber, more saturated fat, and more sugar has been linked to lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep. In contrast, greater fiber intake predicted more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep. In contrast, a higher percentage of energy from saturated fat predicted less slow wave sleep. Greater sugar intake also was associated with more arousals from sleep (sleep fragmentation.)1

Another study linked consumption of high fiber foods to more slow-wave sleep and less time spent in shallow sleep. The same study showed that a greater intake of calories from saturated fat was associated with less time spent in slow-wave sleep. Additionally, greater sugar and non-sugar refined carbohydrate intakes were associated with more wake bouts during the sleep episode. These associations in this study also indicate that higher saturated fat and lower fiber intakes may produce less SWS, more nighttime arousals, and a reduction in overall sleep quality.2

A Japanese study found that poor sleepers with the highest carbohydrate intake consumed more confectionary and noodles than rice compared to good sleepers with a similarly high carbohydrate intake. The same study showed consumption of vegetables and fish was linked to better sleep.3

Women, Check Your Protein

In women, the amount of protein a woman eats can affect her sleep. Low protein intake (<16% of energy from protein) has been linked to poor quality of sleep. High protein intake (>19% of energy from protein) was associated with difficulty maintaining sleep.4,5

Regularity Counts

Skipping breakfast and eating irregularly has been strongly associated with poor sleep quality.6,7

Slash the Salt

Frequent urination at night (nocturia) is a real problem for people over sixty. Reducing salt intake helps nocturia.8

Dietary Sleep Aids

Tart cherries may help insomnia. The consumption of 8 ounces of tart cherry juice in the morning and nighttime, for two weeks, have been linked to a significant reduction in insomnia severity in adults with chronic insomnia.9

The consumption of two kiwifruits one hour before bedtime appears to enhance the sleep of individuals with self-reported sleep disorders. Kiwifruit is one of the few fruits that has a high serotonin concentration.10

Foods impacting the availability of tryptophan, as well as the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin, may be the most helpful in promoting sleep.11 Seaweed, spinach and other greens, pumpkin, asparagus, black-eyed peas, and kidney beans are good sources of the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is found in bananas, cherries, oats, corn, rice, and ginger. Eating tryptophan is one step, but once inside the body tryptophan needs to enter the brain. A high protein diet may decrease tryptophan’s ability to get into the brain.

A recent study in rats shows that prebiotic fibers may help to protect beneficial gut bacteria and restore healthy sleep patterns after a stressful event.12 Prebiotics come from certain fibers that help friendly gut bacteria. They are not probiotics. Where do you find prebiotics? Legumes, oats, berries, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, leeks, onion, and chicory are rich in prebiotic fiber.

How You Sleep Impacts Your Diet too

Even in seemingly healthy adults, insufficient sleep has been associated with higher fast food consumption, lower vegetable intake, and lower physical activity, especially in men.13 Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep loss leads to increased consumption of sugar and unhealthy fat.14 The less you sleep, the more you eat!15 This is true for children and teenagers. Well-rested teenagers tend to make more healthful food choices than those who get inadequate sleep.16 People who go to bed late and sleep late eat more calories in the evening, more fast food, fewer fruits and vegetables, and weigh more than people who go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier.17

The information in the article is general and informative. If you have serious insomnia, please consult with a sleep specialist.


© 2024, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.


  1. Amer Acad of Sleep Medicine. Studies show that sleep fragmentation significantly increases the risk of coronary artery disease even after other possible confounding factors are adjusted. European Society of Cardiology
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  3. Katagiri R.Low intake of vegetables, high intake of confectionary, and unhealthy eating habits are associated with poor sleep quality among middle-aged female Japanese workers. J Occup Health. 2014;56:359–68
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  13. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Late sleep timing linked to poorer diet quality, lower physical activity: Later sleep timing is associated with higher fast food intake as well as lower vegetable intake, physical activity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160608174254.htm
  14. University of Tsukuba. “Direct link between REM sleep loss, desire for sugary and fatty foods discovered.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 December 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161206110327.htm
  15. Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy D Nelson. Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults. Journal of Health Psychology, June 2015 DOI: 10.1177/1359105315573427
  16. Stony Brook Medicine. “Sleep deprivation in teens linked to poor dietary choices.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130620162746.htm
  17. Northwestern University. “Night owls at risk for weight gain and bad diet.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110504111143.htm