How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep?

There are many different aspects that go into a good night’s sleep. One being nutrition. Hippocrates, the father of medicine noted “Sleep and watchfulness, both of them, when immoderate, constitute disease.” He also stated “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This established the vital nature of nutrition and sleep to well-being. There are known links between sleep deprivation and weight. Now researchers are looking at how nutrition has an effect on sleep health. While there is no evidence that says a specific diet is best for sleep, sources suggest that whole foods and low-glycemic diets are helpful in improving sleep. Most studies dive into the impact of macronutrients, which is a type of food composition and how they impact sleep. These macronutrients include fats, protein, and carbohydrates.

Lower Protein intake was associated with short and long sleep times. Less difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep and less non-restorative sleep was linked with a higher intake of protein.

Also in this study, carb consumption was also associated with less difficulty maintaining sleep. However, this benefit occurred when complex carbs were consumed such as fiber. Researchers noticed a harmful effect linked with sugar intake, which resulted in more daytime fatigue. However, increased fiber resulted in less difficulty maintaining sleep and less daytime sleepiness. A high-glycemic diet has been linked to depression symptoms, fatigue and total mood disturbances due to poor sleep.

In a Women’s Health Initiative study, increased fat intake was not associated with adverse sleep symptoms but a low fat diet was linked with non-restorative sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. High fat ketogenic diets have been used to treat epilepsy for centuries and was also used as a treatment for diabetes before the discovery of insulin. The “Keto” diet is now one of the most popular internet searched diets and has been used for weight loss, cancer, and narcolepsy. It has been associated with improved sleep quality and improving the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Micronutrients are also looked at when studying the impact of nutrients on sleep. Most people think of vitamins when it comes to micronutrients but metabolites, amino acids, and fatty acids are also included in this group. They ensure normal metabolism and physical well-being. They also can influence sleep quality and circadian factors.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) has been shown to reduce daytime sleepiness and improve sleep patterns while also increasing activity. Vitamin B9 (Folate) is linked to improving mood and sleep while vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) influences circadian rhythms. Less quantities of Vitamin B have been linked to insomnia. So where can you get Vitamin B? Sources include meat such as red meat, poultry and fish. Eggs and dairy products like milk and cheese. Legumes like beans and lentils. Seeds, nuts, dark leafy greens and whole grains are also great sources of vitamin B.

Amino acids such as asparagine, have had an effect on fatigue. Mental and physical fatigue coincides with low levels of glutamine, serine and carnitine. Meats, poultry, eggs and fish are common sources for these amino acids and metabolites.

Some minerals have also been linked to improving sleep. Magnesium and zinc are two minerals that have coincided with improving sleep quality. Magnesium has been useful in treating restless leg syndrome. Other studies have shown that nightly melatonin, magnesium and zinc has improved sleep quality in primary insomnia patients. magnesium and zinc have been found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains and in dark chocolate. Zinc can also be found in meats and shellfish.

Oleic acid is a fatty acid that is the precursor to oleamide, which regulates our drive for sleep. Insomnia patients tend to have oleic acid deficiency. Oleic acid is a major constituent of plant oils like olive oil and almond oil. Fish consumption, which is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with improving sleep.

With this information one isolated vitamin, mineral or macronutrient does not play a definitive role in the optimization of sleep. They all work together which is why food diversity is so important. In general low-glycemic eating, minimally processed foods, moderate protein, whole grains and healthy fats are better for sleep.


Colon, Jose. “How Does Nutrition Impact Sleep Disorders?” Sleep Review, 27 Oct. 2018,