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Sleep Well to Eat Well

Submitted By: Amy Sercel

Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RD CSSD CD

It’s not unusual to feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.  Like most people, you might find yourself rushing around to meet all of your responsibilities, and sometimes that might mean you don’t get to bed as early as you planned.  The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night, although this number varies based on the individual.  A good night’s sleep is crucial for a healthy lifestyle.  When you sleep, hormones are released that repair all of your body tissues, including your muscles, bones, and skin.  Sleep also gives your brain the chance to process and store memories.  Your immune system is also more active during sleep, allowing your body to fight off infections more easily.1 Most noticeably, loss of sleep definitely impacts energy levels and mood the next day.  In addition, long-term sleep deprivation has also been associated with increased appetite, weight gain, and diabetes.2

While it might seem like people would burn more calories by staying awake longer, it turns out that the opposite is true.  Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to crave foods high in carbohydrates and fat, possibly because loss of sleep can make your body release more hormones that stimulate hunger.2 Being tired can also lead to irritability, which in turn can cause cravings for certain energy-dense foods.  At the same time, being awake longer means that there are more opportunities to eat during the day.  One study found that people who slept less ate about 550 extra calories in the form of late-night snacks between 11 pm and 4 am.  On top of that, people who feel tired during the day are less likely to engage in physical activity, which further contributes to weight gain.  Luckily, returning to a regular sleep pattern has been shown to bring people back to their usual weight.3

At the same time, there is some thought that what you eat might influence how well you sleep.  You have probably heard that eating turkey makes people sleepy because it contains a lot of the amino acid tryptophan.  While you’d need to eat a lot of turkey to feel these effects right away, it’s possible that eating foods rich in tryptophan (soy products, eggs, spinach, fish, and pork4) could help you sleep better.5 On the other hand, there are some foods that might keep you awake.  One study found that people in China who had a higher fat intake at dinner were more likely to be sleep deprived.  Although the reason is unclear, these researchers found that people who ate more fat at breakfast were less likely to fall asleep during the day, suggesting that dietary fat might play a role in keeping people awake.6

The relationship between diet and sleep quality is still being researched.  Until more is known, the National Sleep Foundation has some tips for lifestyle changes you can make to help you sleep well:7

  • Routinely keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Keep your bedroom between 60 and 67ºF.
  • Make sure your room is dark and quiet, so you won’t be woken up during the night.
  • Spend the last hour before bed doing relaxing activities, like reading.  Avoiding bright lights from televisions, computer screens, and phones will also give your mind time to quiet down.
  • If you’re in bed and can’t sleep, get up and move to a different room until you feel tired, then return to bed.

A good night’s sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and getting the sleep you need is an important first step in reaching your health-related goals!


  1. What happens to your body while you’re asleep. Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-90598/What-happens-body-youre-asleep.html. Published March 29, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016.
  2. Why Is Sleep Important? – NHLBI, NIH. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why. Accessed March 28, 2016.
  3. Chaput J-P. Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance. Physiol Behav. 2014;134:86-91. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.09.006.
  4. Foods highest in Tryptophan. http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000079000000000000000.html. Accessed March 28, 2016.
  5. Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutr Res. 2012;32(5):309-319. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2012.03.009.
  6. Cao Y, Taylor AW, Pan X, Adams R, Appleton S, Shi Z. Dinner fat intake and sleep duration and self-reported sleep parameters over five years: findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese adults. Nutrition. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2016.02.012.
  7. Healthy Sleep Tips. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips. Accessed March 28, 2016.

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