How Diet Effects Insomnia and Sleep


Written by Terre Grable

January 5, 2019


As a whole, our society is becoming more health conscious. Technologies exist that help us track our steps and count how many proteins and carbohydrates we consume each day. A healthy diet becomes the primary focus of our daily attention. Yet, have you ever wondered if diet effects insomnia and other sleep habits?  Is your diet helping you fall asleep?  Or is it making your sleep worse?  Researchers chose to answer these same questions in a recent study that was done in Finland. Although the study demonstrated the scarcity of research that exists regarding diet and sleep,  they were able to provide some guidance that we all can utilize to achieve our health goals and sleep better. 

Diet effects insomnia by poor food choices

Researchers in this study noted that those that participants that slept less tended to consume more fats and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are commonly known to provide energy.  Hence, those that experience insomnia symptoms may have a tendency to eat  more  fats and refined carbohydrates to feel like they have more energy throughout the day. Additionally, those that slept less tended to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.  

It was also observed that those that slept less had more erratic sleep patterns, tended to skip breakfast and snack more. It is not uncommon for many insomnia sufferers to begin snacking in the middle of the night.  As a result, they may replace meals with  snacking more frequently.  By snacking more often, they often choose to skip breakfast altogether.  While digestive issues are a concern, the more significant one is regarding the unhealthy foods that are being eaten.  Late night snacks often contain refined sugars and lack healthy nutrients.  

One’s diet effects insomnia by the types of food and the timing that is eaten. Therefore, the outcome for those that struggle with chronic insomnia may find themselves eating more carbohydrates because they slept less and needed more energy. Also, some may develop a habit of snacking during the late night hours and choose to skip breakfast.   This inconsistent meal schedule causes greater unhealthy eating habits.  Insomnia then may effect one’s diet by promoting unhealthy eating choices to compensate for their continued daytime tiredness.

Sleep-promoting foods

Does warm milk and honey help with insomnia? What about chamomile tea? Are there foods that can promote sleep more than others? This is another question the researchers sought to answer. One common food that was studied was the association between milk and sleep.  Many grandmothers have told their grandchildren to drink some warm milk to help them fall asleep.  This actually may be true.  As confirmed by previous studies, it was concluded there is some evidence that milk can improve sleep for some. It is thought that the melatonin in the cow’s milk is what can be attributed with helping with inducing sleepiness.  Also, other fruits such as cherries and kiwi were noted to have improved sleep in a few instances as well.  A handful of participants were able to fall asleep a bit quicker.  Foods containing tryptophan were also observed to help people sleep a bit better.  

The actual research between directly consuming foods and improved sleep is scant. The researchers confirm that most of the studies that have been done were small and more individualized. Yet, despite having few participants, the data still exists that what we eat may help us improve our sleep.  Even on a small scale with nominal data, the argument can be made that diet effects insomnia and sleep.  While eating healthier may not be curative for insomnia sufferers, it may be helpful as a means of gaining a sense of control when their sleep patterns seem overwhelming.  And, when we tend to feel better when we are eating healthier.

Therefore, it is helpful to those that experience insomnia to recognize these correlations. Research has shown that those who sleep less may often eat more fats and refined carbohydrates to alleviate the tiredness they experience during the daytime. Also, some insomnia symptoms may be improved by eating foods that naturally contain melatonin and tryptophan. If you suffer from insomnia and poor sleep, talk to your healthcare provider to see if changing your diet may help.  

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