Eat Well, Sleep Sound: How Your Diet Affects Sleep

Do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? Despite the countless apps, experts, and literature, the answer is remarkably simple. If you don’t feel tired during the day, you’re good. Easy as that. But, if you are feeling a little sleepy at your desk, grabbing another cup of coffee is only treating a symptom. We want to cure the disease.

Healthy living is remarkably interconnected. Take for example diet — eating the right foods at the right time can fuel your body to rip through the challenges in your day. A balanced flow of nutrients can also help you get to sleep at night. But, the wrong foods and a poor diet can throw your chances for a restorative night’s sleep right out the window. You’ll toss and turn, or you’ll get up and grab a snack in the kitchen, hoping that the utensil drawer doesn’t rattle too much when you reach to find the ice cream scoop. You’ll wake up under-rested and unprepared for a productive and busy day. And a cycle creeps in. With too little sleep, you’re more prone to giving in to the pains of stress, and will turn to unhealthy foods to seek comfort and an escape. Or without the right planning, a busy day can get away from you and meals take the backseat, until your stomach screams and whines enough for you to finally pull into that drive-thru on the way home.

Quick energy vs. good sleep.

There’s a growing body of research showing that folks with diets high in quick energy (think fats and refined carbohydrates like that muffin) sleep less on the whole compared to groups that get plenty of vegetables. Adding to the misery of the average Jane on the go, unplanned meals that are crammed into random gaps in your crowded calendar can exacerbate the problem at bedtime. What you put into your body not only impacts your overall health, it can rob you of vital snooze time, when your body and mind are rebuilding, repairing, and setting you up for success come sunrise. Sure, that croissant looks perfectly buttery, but it’ll flake all over your big meeting power suit, and an hour at the gym after work isn’t going to completely solve your sleep woes.

Not a morning person? You may feel that you’re predisposed to waking late or needing time to warm up to the day, but it’s more likely that an imbalanced diet has retrained your body’s clock. Recent studies have found that animals can rearrange their own circadian rhythms (the system that governs our natural sleep patterns) by diet alone. Caffeine, sweets, too much meat? Our bodies struggle to metabolize excessive fats and sugars. They work overtime to break things down into usable nutrients and can throw your digestive system into disarray, impacting your body’s pre-bedtime routines.

So, what can we do to eat well and sleep sound? Square away some time to plan a menu for the week, make some changes to what you’re buying at the store, and eat when your body needs it most.

Make a plan.

The trouble with food is the good stuff takes a little time, a thing few of us seem to have much of. Whether you love to cook or you’re a kitchen noob, preparing meals at home, and in advance, is a great way to exert some more control over your diet, and sleep better. Spend an hour planning out the week’s meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and build a shopping list around all the delicious things you’re going to make. Recipes that can scale up means you’ll have the week’s lunches packed and ready in the fridge, making grab’n’go a healthier, tastier option. Make dinners ahead of time and pop ‘em in the freezer. Incorporate whole grains, fruit, and healthy fats like yogurt into breakfast. Time is of the essence, so plan meals that suit your cooking skills, tastes, and storage space.

Grocery, not gross-ery.

Walk into any major grocery chain and ask yourself why you aren’t greeted by bins of colorful, beautifully arranged fruits and vegetables? The aisles are your supermarket are built to steer you away from the fresh produce and drive you toward the ultra-processed snacks, boxed meals, and big game beer discounts that are keeping you up at night. Avoid the trap and make a beeline for the veggies. Load your cart up with produce you enjoy and skip as much of the processed stuff as possible.

Feeding time.

For most of us, sleep is the longest break from eating we take all day. From when we first open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night, our days can be full of snacking, picking, and nibbling at whatever’s in front of us. And if there’s nothing on the conference table or in the breakroom, we can go for long periods of unintentional fasting, even when our bodies call for a nutrient kick. When you eat is as important as what you eat, so consider when you sit down for a meal or what time you grab a snack. Eating dinner on the earlier side of the evening helps ensure that you’ve had a chance to digest, getting you that much closer to sleep bliss. An added bonus? Experts have good reason to believe that timing when you eat can help you hit those weight loss goals too.

Chow time, bed time.

Getting a good night’s sleep is a vital part of staying healthy. Our bodies depend on plenty of ZZZs to repair, restore, and regenerate, but there are so many obstacles to getting healthy sleep. Eating right — the right foods at the right times — can go a long way to making sure you get to bed and stay there.