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How does food impact sleep? Exploring the connection between diet and restful nights

Posted on January 16th, 2024

In today’s fast-paced world, getting a good night’s sleep can feel like a luxury. In pursuit of that elusive good night’s rest, you’ve likely tried various remedies, from meditation to melatonin to white noise machines. Yet, amidst these efforts, one crucial factor often goes unnoticed: your diet. Surprisingly, what you eat can significantly impact the quality of your sleep.

How nutrients affect your sleep 

Nutrients can have an important impact on your sleep quality and patterns. Here’s how some key nutrients can affect your sleep:


Magnesium is known for its relaxation properties and can improve sleep quality. It helps regulate the neurotransmitters involved in sleep and calms the nervous system. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.


Calcium is another mineral that can contribute to better sleep. It works alongside magnesium to regulate muscle and nerve function, which can help you relax before bedtime. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Adequate levels of vitamin D are linked to better sleep quality, while deficiencies are associated with sleep disturbances. You can get vitamin D from sunlight exposure, fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and supplements.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, which are important for sleep regulation. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include poultry, fish, bananas, and chickpeas.


Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, both of which are involved in sleep regulation. Foods rich in tryptophan include turkey, chicken, nuts, and seeds.


While not a nutrient, melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The body produces it naturally, but melatonin can also be found in small amounts in foods like cherries, tomatoes, and nuts.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may improve sleep by reducing inflammation in the body. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds.


Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance in the body, which is important for muscle function and relaxation. Foods rich in potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens.

The impact of caffeine and alcohol on your sleep 

Having a cup of coffee in the morning can kick-start your day. However, consuming caffeine later in the day can disrupt your sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Similarly, drinking alcohol close to bedtime can disrupt the later stages of your sleep, leading to a less restorative rest. Alcohol might make you feel drowsy initially, but it can make you wake up during the night and have trouble falling back asleep. 

How the timing of your meals influences sleep

When you eat can also influence your sleep. Eating large or spicy meals close to bedtime can cause discomfort and indigestion, making it harder to fall asleep. 

Conversely, going to bed hungry can disrupt your sleep as well. Hunger pangs may wake you up during the night and cause difficulty falling back asleep. If you feel hungry before bed, try having a light snack, opting for foods that won’t cause discomfort.

Why you should manage your sugar intake

Consuming sugary foods and beverages, especially in large amounts, can lead to rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations can disrupt your sleep by causing wakefulness during the night. 

Instead, choose complex carbohydrates that your body can digest more slowly. Then, pair the carbohydrates with a source of protein – for example, whole grain toast with peanut butter. The toast provides complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, while the peanut butter adds protein for muscle repair and satiety. This combination of carbohydrates and protein can stabilize your blood sugar levels and promote better sleep.

Individual dietary responses and sleep patterns can vary

Every person is different, and individual responses to food and sleep can vary. Certain foods might help some people sleep better. However, they could have the opposite effect on other people. Pay attention to how different foods affect your sleep and make adjustments accordingly. You may want to keep a food and sleep journal to track what you eat each day and how it affects your sleep. 

What you eat can significantly impact your sleep quality. Eating foods that help you sleep, not having caffeine or alcohol before bed, eating at regular times, and watching your sugar intake can all help you sleep better. As with any lifestyle change, you may want to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice tailored to your specific goals. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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