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8 Ways Nutrition Affects Sleep (And How You Can Fix It)

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Published on: 02 Nov 2022

Are you awake at night and googling, "how to fall asleep fast"? 

You want to sleep but you can't. That's not a problem unheard of. 

Just that, the problem has escalated over time and almost everyone seems to be affected by it.

Some blame it on social media and mobile phones while others believe that it could be a result of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Sometimes, the reason is none of the options mentioned above.

What if we tell you that your diet and nutrition is a major reason why you are facing a lack of sleep?

Don't believe us?

With concepts like low-carb diet and sleep problems raising concerns, it's quite evident that unhealthy eating has played a role in sleep disorders. 

In this blog, we will prove to you through various well-researched facts how nutrition affects your sleep. Additionally, we will provide you a glance on how you can improve your sleep through nutrition.

Let's start with the basics first: the relationship between nutrition and sleep. 

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Relationship between nutrition and sleep

Nutrition and sleep are interrelated.
How?
Experts have researched various diet plans like mixed meals (for instance, high carbohydrate intake with low-fat content) and how these affect sleep over the short run. These studies put light on how macronutrients affect the sleep pattern of a person. The results show how diet affects slow-wave sleep and how the intake of fat and carbs cause rapid eye movement while sleeping.

Several studies further examined that sleep is related to the type of food a person intakes AND when it is consumed. The what and when of specific foods (especially items like fatty fish, kiwi, cherry juices, milk, and tart) dictate the “quality” and “architecture” of sleep. 
Studies have evidently shown that carbohydrates and sleep have a strong connection. While certain foods degrade the quality of sleep, others can promote high-quality sleep. However, this claim is still in debate and needs more studies to confirm the findings.

A study done by NHANES in the USA revealed that people who sleep less eat higher energy food, mostly inclining towards a diet of snacks and fat. Compared to regular sleepers ( people who sleep for 7 hours or more) consume smaller amounts and a variety of food. The study showed that this section of people is more likely to consume food with lower protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and fat content.

More clinically tested studies have backed the findings that sleep restriction or deprivation results in the consumption of larger amounts of snacks. Habitual sleepers/regular sleepers have a lesser craving for high-calorie intake. The studies also revealed that, unlike a habitual sleeper, fat is a major micronutrient chosen by those facing sleep restriction.

10 ways nutrition affects your beauty sleep

When we say nutrition affects your sleep, we mean three aspects of it:

  • Consumption of food that degrades sleep quality
  • Restriction of food that promotes sleep quality
  • Food habits that affect sleep quality 

Keeping the pointers above in mind, we have a list of nutrition facts based on solid research. Let’s look at how nutrition affects your beauty sleep. 

How Caffeine Affects Sleep

Pretty sure you have heard this before: coffee can keep you awake.
But, it’s not just your daily shot of espresso that’s causing sleep loss. There are other sources of caffeine like sodas, dark chocolate caffeine beans, energy drinks, black tea, and more. 

Did you know?
Higher caffeine intake means lesser melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep better.

It’s important that you remember that caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to 6 hours after consumption. This is why it is mandatory that you drink coffee or other caffeine-rich items prior to 6 hours before your sleep. Limiting caffeine in the later hours of the day can boost your sleep quality.

For those who have trouble sleeping, it is necessary to cut back on caffeine completely. However, if you don’t have trouble sleeping and are merely looking for a way to enhance your sleep and sleep habits, you can keep a track of your caffeine intake and when you consume it. You don't need a sleep calculator. This should be enough to improve your sleep cycle.

A recent study tested the effects of 400 mg of caffeine on people. It revealed that 400g of caffeine taken anywhere between 0 to 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt sleep. The degree of sleep loss also depends on the number of hours passed. For instance, caffeine taken 6 hours before sleep can reduce sleep up to 1 hour (or more). 

The study further revealed that continuous lack of sleep due to caffeine may have deleterious effects on a person’s ability to function actively during the daytime. Hence, the study concluded that caffeine intake during afternoon or later should either be minimised or completely terminated. Mainly, coffee, energy drinks and carbonated drinks should be restricted after 5:00 pm. 

How Alcohol Affects Sleep

Myth of the century: Alcohol helps in reducing stress and improving sleep.

Reality: Alcohol DEGRADES sleep. It is a DEPRESSANT that has the worst effects on your physical and mental well-being.

So, if you think alcohol is the answer to your sleep and mental health problems, you need an intervention ASAP! 

BMC reported a study that revealed that sleep problems are mostly related to alcohol and drug abuse. The study reported that approximately 70% of patients admitted with toxic substance addiction were facing sleep problems. 80% of this section confirmed that the sleep problems were a result of alcohol and drug intake. 

The relationship between sleep loss and alcohol is bidirectional. People who suffer from sleep loss rely on alcohol to improve sleep and people who suffer from alcohol addiction face acute and chronic sleep-related problems along with other health hazards.

How Spicy Food Affects Sleep

Those yummy bites of buffalo wings may delight your taste buds but your stomach and sleep are suffering. 

Spicy food can cause problems like indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux. With your body health spiralling down, there’s no way your sleep won’t be affected.

When you lie on your bed to sleep, the acid generated to digest this spicy food can travel into the oesophagus. You may start feeling irritation in the stomach. This can keep you up all night, tossing from side to side to find some relief. 

Research has shown that eating spicy items like chilli peppers, especially before bedtime, can cause heartburn. Peppers, especially, have capsaicin, a pungent ingredient that’s known to cause several symptoms like sweating, increase in blood pressure, heart rate, surface temperature, and more.

Even though these effects may be temporary and easy to resolve through medication, they have a negative impact on your sleep. The irritation and the pain cause sleep disturbances that may last for hours.

How High-fat Intake Affects Sleep

The American Sleep Association reported a study done by the University of  Adelaide, titled the “Men Androgen Inflammation Lifestyle Environment and Stress (MAILES)”. The study took more than 1800 men from age 35 to 80 into consideration. It revealed that men who consume high-fat content have more sleep problems at night. They also found that men facing sleep problems during the day are more exhausted during the daytime.

The study also revealed that people who lack sleep at night crave high-fat or high-energy food during the day. This, again, leads to sleep deprivation at night and the cycle continues. 

One of the reasons behind the sleep deprivation caused by high-fat food is that foods rich in fat slow down digestion. The fat takes its sweet time to break down which becomes a problem. Why? Because at night, you are either tossing and turning on the bed or facing multiple trips to the bathroom, thus disrupting sleep. 

Another theory is that high-fat foods build barriers to melatonin production. This is why the person can't sleep at night when they want to.

How Light Breakfast and Heavy Dinner Affect Sleep

Several people have just an apple for breakfast and consume a heavy meal for dinner.

But, nutritionists would advise otherwise.

There's a popular saying that explains the concept better:
"eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a Pauper"

A heavy breakfast energises you through the day. It also keeps your metabolism active and prepares your body to go to sleep by the night. Having a heavy dinner, however, means collecting more energy at night without any means to burn it. Plus, heavy dinner is more prone to cause problems like indigestion and acidity. 

How Snacking Before Bedtime Affects Sleep

Yes, a heavy dinner can cause sleep disturbances but at the same time you should never go to bed empty stomach. If indigestion can cause sleep disturbances,  an empty growling stomach will not let you sleep either. Low-fat diet sleep problems are real and you must not ignore them. 

Another important thing to remember is that you must maintain the timing of what you eat at night. Most experts would recommend people to not in the latter hours of the night. The perfect time to eat dinner/snack would be anywhere between 19:00 HRS to 21:00 HRS. 

Consumption of salt or salty items before bedtime can also hamper your sleep. A report by Cleveland Clinic mentioned that excessive salt consumption (more than 1500mg) can result in high blood pressure and fluid retention. You may face symptoms like perspiration, frequent awakenings, and restlessness. 

By all means, have food that are low in sodium. For example, bananas, blueberries, and turkey that have nutrition to build chemical blocks in the brain to make you sleepy. The cleaner you eat, the better you sleep. 

How Sugar Intake Affects Sleep

Sugar boosts energy levels. So, imagine what happens when you consume sugar at night!

Sugar is  a synonym for energy. If you have a habit of taking excessive sugar, it's no wonder you are looking for an answer to how to sleep better. 

A study explored two groups of people, one with high sugar consumption and the other with low sugar consumption. The study revealed that 100% of the people who intake high sugar face sleep disorders. On the other hand, only 65.2% of people who consume low sugar had poor sleep quality. The study concluded that sugar intake before bedtime has negative effects on sleep. The odds also revealed that people with more sugar consumption are 3.5 times more likely to have poor sleep habits. 

How Hydration All Day Affects Sleep

Your body cannot function well without water.
They say water is the essence of life and they are not wrong about it. Being dehydrated means your body won't work properly. This includes functions like sleep, too. 

Moreover, the relationship is interconnected in terms of sleep and water. Meaning, dehydration can cause sleep loss and sleep loss can cause dehydration. 

There are studies that have proved that shorter sleep cycles cause dehydration.

At the same time, dehydration has a negative effect on kidneys which in turn, cause sleep disorders. 

Solution: Keep your body hydrated.

By this, we don't mean keep your body hydrated by chugging a bottle of water at once right before sleep. That will only increase your tendency to visit the washroom at night (and hence, more sleep loss). Instead, keep your body hydrated throughout the day. This will keep the fluids in your body high even at night. 

via GIPHY

Got the patience to read more?

We have top 3 diet tips summed up to help you improve your sleep. 

Top 3 diet tips for better sleep

Diet alone can never improve your sleep. You need to exercise and burn those calories taken so that your body feels tired. If you hate exercising, you can also try meditation for sleep. That's a good way to let your body drift mania into dreams. 

What a diet for insomnia and anxiety does is prepare your body better by:

  • Letting your body consume and gain energy at the right time.
  • Fill your body with healthy carbs and fats.
  • Allow your body to process the consumed food without facing problems like indigestion, acidity, and more. 

Here are the top 3 guidelines that can shape your diet better. Adding these to your meal can improve your sleep AND make your body healthier. Let's check these out. 

1. Eat antioxidant rich food

Veggies and fruits may not be your first preference (especially over all the scrumptious meals delivered right to your home), but they are what your body needs. The vitamins, minerals, and the iron content present in these can boost your immune system and enhance your sleep. Yes, your immune system is a solid reason for having a better sleep. Avoid antioxidants and your sleep will run away from you for compromising with the immune system. Plus, you will fall sick more often and feel less good about yourself. So, get your daily dose of tomatoes, lemons, sweet potatoes, and apples. 

Can you think of some of the veggies and fruits rich in antioxidants?

2. Intake good fats

There are good fats and then, there are the wicked ones which taste like heaven. The good fat can keep your muscles strong and healthy as you age. Keep your diet rich in these 2 types of good fats:

Omega-3  fatty acids

Known as the Messiah for the immune system, omega-3 is recommended by many nutritionists and health experts. You can find optimum nutrition in chia seeds, green veggies, walnuts, beans, and flaxseeds. For the non-vegetarian bunch, salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel are packed with omega-3 content. 

Omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are strong boosters of dopamine, the happy hormone. This hormone results in better sleep and reduces the chances of mental disorders like Parkinson's disease and depression. Uplift yourself daily with Omega-6-rich foods like seeds, nuts, olive oil, and soyabeans. Non-vegetarians can go for fish, eggs, and poultry.

3. Adopt a protein-rich diet

You have heard gym instructors talk about taking protein to keep your muscles strong. 

But, did you know protein can make your sleep better, too?

It's true. A high-protein diet for sleep is very effective.

Studies have evidently shown that protein intake before bedtime can lead to better sleep. This is because of an amino acid called Tryptophan that increases melatonin levels in the body. Add lentils, milk, fish, eggs, and soy products to your meals to make your diet rich in protein. 

Remember, a person should take at least 30 g of protein per meal to see positive results. 

This was the complete study of the relationship between eating and sleep cycle. You understand now how you can improve sleep patterns with a well-planned diet and nutrition. All you need to do is exercise, maintain a clean diet and get your sleep mask on.

On KoolStories, you will find experts and nutritionists who can help you learn more about the niche. Not only that, they also have nutrition courses that can help you learn more about healthy diets. Get the app for free and discover it today.  

FAQs

Can lack of nutrition cause sleep deprivation?

Yes, poor nutrition can cause sleep loss. If your body is not getting enough nutrients, you will face difficulty in falling asleep. 

 

Which food causes insomnia the most?

Heavy food items, processed foods, and foods rich in carbohydrates result in sleep deprivation the most. 

 

Can vitamins help in sleep?

Vitamin B12 and C are known for improving sleep patterns. Several studies have been conducted which prove the positive effects of vitamin B12 and C on sleep. 

 

Does magnesium help in better sleep?

Magnesium is a relaxing mineral. It helps calm your body and is advised by most nutritionists to treat insomnia. 

 

How does poor nutrition affect sleep?

Nutrition and sleep have a scientifically proven relationship. According to several studies, lack of enough fiber in diet may cause loss of sleep. Moreover, eating food higher in saturated fats may decline the quality of a restorative sleep. Studies have also analysed that lack of proper nutrition can cause more disturbed sleep patterns. People who don't eat clean face a longer duration turning and twisting in the bed. The same can be said for those who consume beverages and food with high amounts of calories. Having such edibles close to bedtime can push your sleep further away.

 

Can sleep loss cause loss of hunger?

Studies have proven that sleep directly affects the central brain mechanism, especially the parts which govern the appetitive desire in a human. Sleep deprivation can directly affect hunger pangs. Loss of sleep can decrease the appetitive evaluation existing in the frontal cortex and insula cortex. This leads to a bidirectional change in the brain activity. The same is associated with increase in weight gain desire. 

 

How does junk food affect sleep?

Junk food is packed with insulin resistance. Because of its high sugar content, junk food contributes to disturbed or diminished sleep patterns. Consumption of junk food also leads to many side effects like inflammation and weight gain which further add to the deprivation of sleep. Moreover, junk food focuses mainly on addictive tastes. In doing so, it hampers the nutritional quality, the most important aspect of food consumption. Eating junk food right before sleep can cause acid reflux, indigestion, and several other digestive issues which keep you tossing restlessly at night. 

 

How does digestion affect sleep?

Studies have shown that more than 33.6% of the US population complains of insomnia caused by GI problems. Gastrointestinal problems are one of the biggest factors in sleep disruptions. The key to good sleep is healthy digestion. Our stomach takes its share of rest to recover while we sleep. Overeating or eating healthy food can disrupt the rest which in turn causes loss of sleep. Moreover, unhealthy eating right before sleep can also increase the risk of heartburn. Eventually what you get is a disturbed night and an exhaustive day ahead. 

 

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