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The Diet - Sleep - Brain - Body Connection

What you eat and drink can have a profound effect on the quality and duration of your sleep and lack of sleep affects the health of your brain and your body. Sleep enables the brain to cleanse and reset, along with the digestive system including the liver. If the liver is over-burdened and needs to spend the early hours detoxifying what you have been consuming all day and late into the night, this is almost a guarantee that it will affect your sleep in some way. Not getting enough deep sleep can impact on your immune system. If you have constantly disturbed sleep this can lower resistance to disease and over time real health issues can build up. Mental health is certainly affected by lack of sleep, so one of the first things to do to improve well-being is to get more sleep, and better quality, meaning longer amounts of deep sleep and undisturbed restful sleep.

Although both sleep and nutrition are complex and involve multiple interconnected systems, there is some simple nutrition and lifestyle knowledge that will help you make better choices that support your sleep and therefore well-being.

Eliminate stimulants and toxins

Caffeine – even if you drink one coffee in the morning it can still affect your sleep later at night. Investigate where you might be getting caffeine as you may be surprised, weak black tea or green may be okay, but chocolate, cereals, ice cream and other products contain caffeine, also some decaf coffee still contains caffeine.

Alcohol – although this can make you sleepy and relaxed early on, in the middle of the night when your liver is detoxing you may wake up due to heat and sweating as this process takes a lot of energy and it’s why we are so tired the next day.

Processed cheese and meats – these contain tyramine that triggers the release of stress hormone which may stimulate the brain and wake you up and can keep you up!

Reduce animal protein and large portions - Digestion slows down by 50% past 6pm so eating large portions of protein at night is not ideal for sleep.

Fatty foods – Fried foods, fatty meat, nuts, buttery and creamy deserts all burden the liver and make digestion very hard especially at night, excess or damaged fats also increase inflammation which can exacerbate sleeplessness.

Complex carbohydrates can actually support sleep an important energy source as the brain needs a constant steady

supply of glucose and carbohydrates are the preferred source. Eating a snack of oat cakes (Nairn’s style), apples, pears, pumpkin seeds, semi-ripe bananas just before sleep can be helpful as this can keep blood sugar steady which is great for a good night’s sleep.

The ‘Circadian’ Rhythm depends on the amino acid Tryptophan as a precursor to melatonin and serotonin which regulate sleep and mood. Consuming foods that contain tryptophan supports this pathway like cherries, bananas, oats, pumpkin seeds closer to bedtime and animal products like fish, turkey and organic chicken and eggs at least 3 hours before going to bed or even better consume earlier in the day.

Deficiencies of Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamins A (Beta-carotene), C, E and K and other important plant nutrients and antioxidants are now thought to be a major factor in sleep quality. Unfortunately, we are less able to get the nutrients from a normal Western diet that generally consists of processed or poor-quality meat, dairy, wheat, grains and sugars with very little plant-based foods. Make sure you consume nutrient dense foods and increase healthy vegetables and fruits.

Foods to add to increase micronutrients that aid sleep: Kiwi fruit, Spinach, kale, seeds, walnuts, berries, red cabbage, brown rice, oats, dried prunes, dried organic apricots, sprouted microgreens, molasses, manuka honey, turmeric, ginger and organic whole grain tahini.

I also recommend taking high quality supplements if you want to really support your sleep, in particular Magnesium just before bedtime and Vitamin C throughout the day. Consult a nutritional therapist for further advise on supplements that support sleep and to find out if you have any deficiencies.

Timing - when you eat your evening meal is crucial to a good night sleep.

How much time you allow for digestion and detoxification before going to bed is very important. You may already be aware that when you’ve eaten out you find it harder to sleep, or you sleep and wake up feeling groggy and unrefreshed. Not only is the late-night eating having an effect but the high salt, and if you had that desert, high sugar is implicated. Salty foods late at night can cause increased heart rate and water retention all adding to a sleepless night. This does also include eating takeaways before bed. They are the perfect storm – high salt, low nutrient and fibre, cheap animal products, processed gluten containing foods, high fat and normally in large portions and eaten with alcohol.

Another tip for better sleep is to reduce your intake of fluids in the evening and consume most of your 2 litres during the day, this helps reduce water retention at night and getting up to use the loo at night.

Over the many years that I have been practicing, I have observed both personally and with my nutrition clients, that if you eat a substantial breakfast, a nutritious lunch and very moderate amounts the evening, the burden on digestion and therefore the body is much reduced and not only allows better sleep but digestion will improve, inflammation is lowered, the liver and kidneys are supported and cardiovascular health improves and there is less weight gain, in fact there generally is weight loss.

Lifestyle habits that support good sleep.

Reduce your screen time and avoid looking at emails after 8pm.

Regular exercise

Guided mediation

Yoga Breathing

There is no doubt that your diet affects your sleep - good or bad. In the end it is down to the choices you make, remember these simple tips:

Eat a nutritious breakfast, a substantial nutritious lunch and moderate amounts in the evenings, reduce alcohol, reduce meat, increase vegetables and fruit and hydrate well.

Sleep may also be helped by resetting your Microbiome.

Originally written for POW Foods by Sam Bourne

A fantastic healthy food delievery service that I advise on their nutrition, recipes and snacks


Frank, Sarah et al. “Diet and Sleep Physiology: Public Health and Clinical Implications.” Frontiers in neurology vol. 8 393. 11 Aug. 2017, doi:10.3389/fneur.2017.00393

Lieberman HR, Agarwal S, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Tryptophan Intake in the US Adult Population Is Not Related to Liver or Kidney Function but Is Associated with Depression and Sleep Outcomes. J Nutr. 2016 Dec;146(12):2609S-2615S. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.226969. Epub 2016 Nov 9. PMID: 27934652.

Ikonte CJ, Mun JG, Reider CA, Grant RW, Mitmesser SH. Micronutrient Inadequacy in Short Sleep: Analysis of the NHANES 2005-2016. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 1;11(10):2335. doi: 10.3390/nu11102335. PMID: 31581561; PMCID: PMC6835726.

Chung N, Bin YS, Cistulli PA, Chow CM. Does the Proximity of Meals to Bedtime Influence the Sleep of Young Adults? A Cross-Sectional Survey of University Students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr 14;17(8):2677. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17082677. PMID: 32295235; PMCID: PMC7215804.


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