The link between nutrition and sleep

Sleep is an important lifestyle factor that contributes to our overall health. It’s needed for neurological processing and physiologic restoration. Basically, sleep is our body’s recovery time! It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, however, studies show that on average we only get 6.5 hours of sleep each night.

Lack of sleep can have a variety of impacts on our health, including altering our glucose tolerance, hormonal balance, increasing inflammation in the body, and even putting us at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. When we aren’t getting enough sleep, our attention, memory, and mood can suffer too!

While many aspects of our physical and mental well-being can be affected by lack of sleep, did you know that not getting enough shut eye can also have an impact on your food choices?

The impact of not getting enough sleep on our eating patterns

Research has shown that a lack of good quality sleep can alter our appetite and fullness hormones, which impacts our food cravings throughout the day. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body may reduce the amount of leptin produced. Leptin is our fullness hormone, and when production is reduced, it can be more diffucult to notice when we are full. Additionally, our body may increase production of ghrelin, the hormone that enhances our feelings of hunger. These potential shifts in hormone levels, combined with the fact that we are feeling tired, may lead us to reach for “quick-fix” energy sources such as energy drinks or refined carbohydrate food. Quick fix energy sources take less work for our body to digest, and provide more readily available energy. The downside to some of these products like energy drinks and refined carbohydrates, is that they can cause a rapid spike in our blood glucose levels, which are closely related to our energy levels. This rapid spike is followed by a subsequent dip, or crash, resulting in us riding the low energy roller coaster all day long!

The good news is that these effects seem to be reversible by getting enough shut eye. So, focus on logging more sleep each night, and you’ll find your appetite will normalize.

Can our food choices help or hinder our pursuit of better sleep?

Sleep habits can impact our food choices, but can food choices affect sleep? Early research points to yes!

Correlational studies have demonstrated relationships between poor diet quality and poor sleep patterns. Those individuals who often had irregular mealtimes, skipped meals, and had low intakes of nutrients including fibre, magnesium, and niacin, also struggled with poor sleep quality! It’s important to note, that because this research is correlational, we find ourselves in a “chicken or egg situation”. Did the poor diet cause the poor sleep? Or did the poor sleep cause poor dietary choices? More research is required, however, given what we know about the benefits of these nutrients, it can’t hurt to make a few changes to increase your chances of better sleep.

Use nutrition to help improve your sleep quality

There are several ways you can use nutrition to help you sleep better. Here are a few examples:

Encourage regular mealtimes and stop eating a few hours before bedtime

  • Early research suggests that regular intake of meals and snacks helps to regulate the circadian rhythms that impact our sleep patterns. Our bodies love routine!

Enjoy fibre-rich foods

  • Fibre plays an important role in blood sugar management and keeping energy levels stable throughout the day. Fibre-rich foods include whole grains, beans & lentils, and fruits and vegetables. Including complex carbohydrates at dinnertime and after-dinner snacks may be especially important to stabilize blood sugars overnight!

Include food sources of magnesium

  • This mineral plays a role in helping the body produce melatonin and other compounds that encourage sleep. Magnesium is found in a variety of foods including nuts & seeds, nut butters, fruits & vegetables, and beans!

Be gentle with yourself

  • Unavoidable late night? Being aware of how your body may respond differently during the day can help you to show some self-compassion. Put the focus on getting in a few solid meals at regular times to encourage a better sleep the following night and try to keep your caffeine intake to no more than 2 cups of coffee so you’re not over-stimulated.

If you have additional questions about the connection between food and sleep, or about your food choices in general, please contact us to book an appointment with one of our registered dietitians.


The National Sleep Foundation: Diet, exercise, and sleep.

Golem, D. L., Martin-Biggers, J. T., Koenings, M. M., Davis, K. F., & Byrd-Bredbenner, C. (2014). An integrative review of sleep for nutrition professionals. Advances in nutrition5(6), 742-759.

Ikonte, C., Reider, C., Fulgoni III, V., & Mitmesser, S. (2019). Analysis of NHANES 2005–2016 Data Showed Significant Association Between Micro and Macronutrient Intake and Various Sleep Variables (P06-103-19). Current developments in nutrition3 (Supplement_1), nzz031-P06.

St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of diet on sleep quality. Advances in Nutrition7(5), 938-949.