Your nutrition guide to a better sleep

Eating for a good night's sleep

I recently spoke on More Fm about whether or not eggs are the secret to an amazing sleep. Yes- eggs are a great source of the amino acid tryptophan which increases the production of serotonin and melatonin, which support our ability to relax and go to sleep. However, when it comes to sleep- diet has a huge role to play, and likewise, sleep has a huge role to play in what we eat. If you are struggling with sleep or struggling with losing weight and know that you aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep that your body needs, then this article is for you.

Sleep influences what you eat, and what you eat influences your sleep.

Have you ever noticed that on days when you feel fatigued and run down you tend to crave more carbohydrate-based, sugary foods? You may have also noticed that on days when you feel well rested it becomes a lot easier to make great decisions around food.

Sleep directly affects the body's ability to burn body fat, our appetites, and therefore our muscle and body fat levels. Chronic inflammation and insulin resistance decrease with sleep- showing just how much of an impact sleep can have on our health.

Sleep, hormones, and burning body fat

Missing out on the recommended amount of sleep can lead to body fat retention and loss of muscle mass. This is likely because during sleep, your body repairs and builds muscle while also breaking down fat for energy. It is also attributed to higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) which circulate when we are sleep deprived. Put simply, cortisol tells our body that we are in danger and must stay safe- therefore telling our body to retain body fat. Without enough quality sleep, you’re unable to build as much of that valuable muscle or burn as much fat.

Those of us who are staying up later may also be more likely to snack later in the evening too. This ultimately leads to greater calorie intake and less opportunity for body fat stores to be utilized for energy. Not to mention the changes in our hormones and the increase in hunger hormone (ghrelin) when we are tired. This makes sense as our body is working hard to boost energy levels, and increasing hunger to encourage us to eat is one way to do this. In adults that get 7+ hours of sleep, their fullness hormone (leptin) will be higher and levels of ghrelin will drop. When we are tired it’s often high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods that we crave too- making it so much more difficult to fuel our bodies with nutritious options!

Interestingly, sleep can be an important factor in whether our weight loss efforts pay off. A study carried out in Chicago found that those sleeping for only ~5 ½ hours each night lost 55% less body fat and 60% more muscle mass than those who got adequate sleep.

Sleep and cravings

Poor sleep resulting in increased hunger hormone levels doesn’t just make us hungrier, they also make us crave more sugary, carb-based food. 7 hours of sleep seems to be the magic number, with less than this resulting in stimulation in the “reward-seeking” portion of the brain- influencing our desire for refined carbohydrate foods.

When we are sleep deprived we are also less likely to feel motivated. This can make it more difficult for us to find the energy to choose and prepare nutritious food, and make us more likely to act on our sugar cravings.

Sleepy Foods

Not only can sleep influence diet, but diet can also influence sleep too. A 2016 study found that a diet low in fiber, high in sugar, and saturated fat is more likely to lead to restless, light sleep with more night wakes. Sugar has been shown to cause frequent waking, while fiber has been associated with more time spent in deep, restorative sleep. More reason to boost the veggie intake at dinner time and cancel the post-dinner treats!

Caffeine is a big player when it comes to sleep. It has been shown to potentially stay in our system for ~8 hours. So think about when you have your last coffee or tea for the day and whether this might be leading to frequent wakes, inability to fall asleep, or light restless sleep. Decaf options are great and very accessible if you wish to switch.

Alcohol can lead to broken or light sleep. It can cause dehydration, and frequent urination, but also means that we wake more frequently throughout the night. Even if we find that a drink may help us to fall asleep, this doesn’t always mean that the sleep is restorative. Limiting alcohol or choosing alcohol-free options like soda water, kombucha, herbal teas, or alcohol & sugar-free beverages is a great step.

Including protein in every meal and snack is important. Not just in order to meet our requirements but also to support healthy sleep. Meat, chicken, fish, legumes, eggs, and tofu all contain protein. If you are consuming a vegetarian diet then it’s important to always include a meat alternative in your evening meal as well.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the human body and must be obtained through your diet, primarily from animal or plant-based protein sources. Tryptophan plays a role in the production of serotonin, a mood stabilizer, melatonin, which helps regulate sleep patterns, niacin or vitamin B-3, and nicotinamide also known as vitamin B-3.

Foods rich in tryptophan include:

  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese

  • Bananas

  • Oats

  • Nuts & seeds

  • Tofu & tempeh

  • Salmon & Chicken

So when we have been told to have a glass of milk when we can’t sleep- there really is some science behind this! For those who love a post-dinner sweet snack, banana with yogurt is a nice way to boost your tryptophan intake, add a sprinkle of seeds for an additional boost.


When it comes to sleep, there are many things to consider. Adequate nutrition, appropriate treatment of deficiencies and health conditions, a melatonin-inducing sleep routine, and positive sleep associations are just a few. The right nutrition really can help you to become a better sleeper. Focus on protein and fiber-rich meals lower added sugar and processed foods, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

If you are struggling with your sleep and know that it is impacting your quality of life and health then it’s important to seek advice. A registered dietitian can support you by ensuring that your diet is optimized to promote restful, restorative sleep, along with advising on nutrition for health conditions and weight loss goals.

If you would like to learn more about how to eat to improve your sleep and overall health, then get in touch. You can book a chat with me to talk more about how we can best support you or send me an email at We would love to hear from you!


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