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Fueling for Sleep

Finding the right dietary patterns for a better sleep experience.

Fueling for Sleep

When was the last time you had an awful night's sleep?  You probably remember it well.  The tossing and turning, the staring at the clock, and the aftermath the day after, like excess hunger and irritability.  Not fun.  According to the most recent data, you are not the only one staring at the ceiling on any night.  According to the CDC survey, 14% of adults had trouble falling asleep most days or every day.

There are many reasons why a bad night of sleep can occur.  Studies show that blue light (such as looking at your phone before bed), stress, temperature, and light from the outside and inside may hinder quality sleep.  However, one reason may not immediately resonate as a culprit – your dietary choices.  It's true – what we eat or not eat can impact falling and staying asleep.

Why does getting quality sleep matter?

Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes, mortality, type 2 diabetes, neurological diseases and weight gain and obesity. Therefore, making lifestyle choices that improve sleep may impact our health and longevity.

Here are 3 dietary measures to focus on (and 3 to limit) for better sleep.

Wild Salmon

Consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, or anchovies has been shown to improve sleep quality.  Salmon is also a great source of protein—one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when overweight and obese individuals used high-protein approaches for weight loss, they slept better.  Additionally, consuming protein before bedtime may help in muscle synthesis as well.

Tart Cherries

Studies have found that consuming tart cherry juice can increase melatonin, a sleep hormone, which may lead to less insomnia and better sleep.  This is supported by showing that consuming tart cherry juice improves sleep duration as well.  Walnuts have also been associated with increases in melatonin.

Foods found on the Mediterranean diet

A 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep found that foods in a Mediterranean diet were associated with better quality of sleep and longer sleep duration.  Foods on the Mediterranean diet consist of legumes, healthy fats found in nuts and extra virgin olive oil, for example, whole grains, and abundant fruits and vegetables.

Potential sleep-inhibiting foods

Sugar & Refined Grains

The connection between sugar and sleep is bidirectional.  A randomized crossover study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that sugar and low fiber consumption led to less restorative sleep and more disruptive sleep.  Participants in the study were more likely to be aroused from sleep when these two dietary patterns were consumed.  Other studies have also found a connection between lack of sleep and excess sugar consumption.

Junk food

Nighttime snacking on junk food may be a recipe for low-quality sleep.  A 2023 study compared sleep patterns associated with a healthy diet and a diet high in junk food.  After the study, consuming junk food was linked to reduced deep sleep compared to a more nutritious diet.  Other studies have linked unhealthy diets with poor sleep and short sleep duration.


Though alcohol, considered a depressant, may help you fall asleep, studies show you probably won't stay asleep.  Researchers call this the “rebound effect” – the incidence of alcohol-inducing sleep in the first half of the evening while disrupting the second half, with women potentially being more impacted than men.

Finally, studies show that the actual hours of sleep (quantity) are as important as the sleep quality.  A 2022 study in the Journal PLOS Medicine found the ideal number of sleep hours to be 7-9.  As a bonus, getting enough sleep has also been linked to better snacking habits.

Sleep is essential to health. Find lifestyle choices that help enhance your ability to obtain enough hours of Zzz’s each night.