How Food Can Affect Your Sleep


SHARON M. O’BRIEN, MPAS, PA-C February 18, 2016

I have often been asked by patients about the relationship of food and sleep. There are various articles on the internet that suggest eating foods like bananas and cherries before bed can help promote better slumber. I even have a coworker that swears that her glass of cherry juice puts her right to sleep. Can I say for sure that these things are helpful? Well, I guess it is up to the patient. However, what I can say is that there is research that suggests that what you eat in the evening can influence your sleep.

We probably have all experienced feeling sleepy after eating a high-carbohydrate meal, so we know that food has an effect on our bodies. Researchers now have evidence that fiber and sugar eaten before bed can affect the different stages of sleep.

In the study, meals were provided to participants 3 times daily, with the evening meal at 7:00 pm. The diet contained 31% of energy from fat, 53% of energy from carbohydrates, and 17% of energy from protein. Sleep was assessed each night by polysomnogram. The participants also had an opportunity eat whatever they wanted for 2 days of eating for comparison.

The results showed that higher fiber intake was associated with decreased time in stage 1 sleep, our lightest stage of sleep, and an increased time in slow wave sleep, which is our most restorative sleep. Higher saturated fat intake was associated with decreased time in slow wave sleep. Both sugar and non-sugar/non-fiber carbohydrates were associated with more nocturnal arousals.

Given these findings, a diet rich in fiber with reduced intake of sugar and non-fiber carbohydrates may help a patient sleep better. So, thinking about our bananas and cherries again, I’m not sure they would fit the criteria. Both bananas and cherries have fiber, but they also have a considerable amount of sugar. Bananas have 3 grams of fiber and 19 grams of sugar, and cherries have 13 grams of fiber and 18 grams of sugar. Although it may not sound as appealing, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage are great sources of fiber. These might be better suggestions for your patients if they want to improve their sleep!


St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury AR. Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(1):19–24.


Can I treat my depression without medication?

Depression is one of the most common conditions worldwide. People may experience depression for various reasons and at different intervals in their life. Generally, the tendency to develop depression is inherited but environment, circumstances and life experiences contribute to individual expression. There are several lifestyle changes that can improve mood and an individual’s coping ability.


Sometimes nutritional deficits are partly the cause of a person’s depression. Deficits can be due to poor dietary choices, but is often related to poor absorption of nutrients. Low vitamin levels can be detected through laboratory analysis of a blood sample. Some people have problems with glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, or inflammation. Systemic inflammation is can affect the brain, contributing to mood changes, anxiety and depression. A number of people also have sensitivities to certain foods—a food sensitivity, not a food allergy.
Exercise causes the release of feel-good brain chemicals that can ease depression (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids) and reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too.
Exercise can help improve self-confidence through meeting exercise goals and challenges. Also, regular exercise can help you feel better about your appearance and take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.

It is important that we give our body time to rest and recover daily. Sleep is the body’s time to replenish and repair. Adequate rest equips us to handle stress, make better decisions and manage our reaction to situations. The average adult
Medication Shouldn’t Be the Default: Dr. Henry Emmons on Non-Pharmaceutical Ways to Treat Depression and Anxiety

Interview with Henry C Emmons MD Interview by David Rakel MD, FAAFP

Published in Primary Care Expert Opinion / Interview · July 12, 2016
Depression and anxiety:exercise eases symptoms. From Oct. 10, 2014.

Try this to decrease stress and improve well being

Try Mindfulness to Improve Your Well-being (Slideshow)

Sleep hygiene (part 4)

Drink enough fluid (water) during the day to prevent waking up thirsty. Strive to drink 56-64 oz. throughout the day, preferably water, and limit fluids after dinner.
Exercise early, three hours or more before bedtime.
Be consistent!! Keep trying to incorporate as many of these tips as possible into your routine for a good nights sleep.

Sleep hygiene (part 3)

Do not be a clock watcher, if you cannot get back to sleep within 20 minutes, then get up and do a relaxing activity.
Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Wake up and go to bed close to the same time every day.
Nap early or not at all.
Eat lighter evening meals and try not to eat a meal closer than 2 hours before bedtime. Also, incorporate a light, healthy snack just prior to bed, if you wake up hungry.
(taken from “Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep”, Sleep Medicine Division, Harvard Medical School, Dec 2007)

Sleep hygiene (part 2)

Establish a sleep routine. Participate in relaxing activities for 1 hour prior to bedtime, such as a warm bath, reading, listening to music or relaxation exercises.
Do not go to sleep until you are tired. If you are not asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, then get up and do a relaxing activity.
Get a few minutes of sunlight, i.e. fresh air daily. Go for a morning walk outside or get outside for lunch. This helps promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle.