The Sleep-Diet Connection: How Sleep Quality Impacts Your Appetite

Sleep Well, Eat Well Too!
The Sleep-Diet Connection: How Sleep Quality Impacts Your Appetite
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

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The three pillars of a healthy life are diet, sleep, and nutrition. 

As simple as it may sound, the relationship between the 3 is complex. Merely focusing on eating right or exercising twice daily won’t help you reach your weight loss journey. Neither will they reduce the likelihood of catching chronic illnesses like heart disease or premature death. 

All your efforts to lose weight will be sabotaged by poor sleep quality, especially if you have hit a weight loss plateau because of chronic sleep deprivation. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. aren’t getting adequate sleep. Sleep-deprived individuals prefer unhealthy food and indulge in binge-eating, ultimately leading to weight gain. 

Therefore, it’s increasingly important for individuals to recognize the connection between sleep and diet in order to lose weight and lead a healthy life. This guide is all about that– so let’s get straight to the deets! 

The Sleep-Diet Connection: How The 2 Are Interrelated?

Believe it or not, sleep and diet influence each other in numerous ways unknown to humans. 


That means the food we consume throughout the day impacts our day-to-day activities, including sleep duration. Vitamin B1 deficiency is linked to sleep disturbances, while sleep disorders are common among individuals with magnesium deficiency.. 

Therefore, a healthy and balanced diet lowers the risk of several chronic health problems like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Overeating increases the possibility of sleep disorders, as consuming too many calories results in obesity. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder prevalent among people who are obese. Obesity hypoventilation syndrome and restless leg syndrome are other sleep disorders quite common among morbidly obese patients. 

Nutrition is also said to have a direct impact on the mental health of individuals, as several studies indicate that certain foods may mitigate the risks of developing anxiety and depression. 


The benefits of getting sufficient sleep are aplenty, helping individuals feel better, think better and be more productive. Compared to individuals with insufficient sleep, those who enjoy quality sleep are able to make better decisions and complete their daily chores with ease. 

Going by the recommendation of the CDC, adults must get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day. Because not getting enough sleep can hamper the cognitive functions of individuals and affect concentration. People with poor quality sleep have a tendency to choose junk food, so they eat more. 

But improving the quality of sleep can have a positive effect on body weight.

Food Choices That Affect Sleep

We’ve discussed the unhealthy foods that contribute to increased sleep problems in this section. Let’s check them out. 

1. Caffeinated Beverages 

Every day, countless people gulp down caffeine in the form of coffee, tea, or chocolate because it improves concentration, alleviates fatigue, and increases wakefulness. But what is caffeine?

Caffeine is a bitter substance with stimulant effects said to improve mood and give a temporary energy boost. Moderate intake of caffeine may support weight loss, but consuming it in high doses can cause a variety of health issues. 

Besides altering REM sleep, caffeine consumption can worsen sleep quality and attenuate homeostatic sleep pressure. Because it has a negative impact on overall sleep quality, you must refrain from consuming caffeine late in the evening. 

2. Sugar

One substance that is naturally found in foods is sugar. 

Evidence suggests that added sugar alters the sleep habits of individuals, as it contributes to insomnia. As per research, individuals whose sugar intake is high are more likely to develop sleep conditions than those whose sugary food consumption is low. 

Even drinking beverages that are chock-full of sugar, like energy drinks and soda, can hinder a person’s ability to sleep. 

As a matter of fact, too much sugar consumption can reduce the time individuals spend in deep sleep, interfering with the immunological and metabolic system of the body. Surprisingly, a handful of sugary foods consist of caffeine. Therefore, the intake of such foods will make it difficult for you to get enough sleep, keeping you awake throughout the night. 

Compared to natural sugar, refined sugar is more detrimental to human health, as it may result in chronic inflammation. Often, chronic pain accompanies chronic inflammation, thereby interfering with an individual’s ability to sleep. 

3. Alcohol

Among the foods that disrupt sleep, alcohol is a two-edged sword. We say so because it does lull drinkers to sleep, but that happens for a brief moment. That means you may spend the first half of the night asleep, but it will cause wakefulness in the second half. 

4. Meat 

Regular consumption of large amounts of meat can increase the risk of sleep disorders, even though it’s a good source of protein. If you eat meat more often than not, you’re likely to experience a decline in your sleep quality. Not just that, but you’re at the risk of snoring more than you would otherwise. 

As meat intake increases, issues associated with sleep will also rise. 

5. Spicy Foods

Spicy foods like ghost peppers, Sichuan hot pot, and jerk chicken inhibit deep sleep if consumed before bedtime or late evening. That’s mainly because spicy foods raise core body temperature, which makes it hard to fall asleep. Even indigestion induced by spicy foods can prevent individuals from catching some z’s at night.

6. Liquids

Drinking too much liquid late evening or before bedtime will also interrupt sleep because of the number of times you will have to rush to the loo. 

Alcohol and caffeinated beverages, in particular, increase the urge to use the restroom a couple of times before you can sleep peacefully. For this reason, it’s often advised to limit consuming beverages late evening. 

7. Fatty Foods

Several studies suggest that eating trans fats and saturated fats is associated with less slow-wave sleep and insomnia. Foods that contain trans fats are cookies, store-bought pastries, fried foods, and margarine. 

In contrast, saturated fats are found in food items like coconut oil, palm oil, meat, cheese, and butter. 

Healthy Diet: Foods That Have A Positive Impact On Sleep

Food that you consume throughout the day can make or break your sleep. So, by and large, what you eat in a day determines how well you’ll sleep at night. 

Munching on healthy food or those rich in nutrients will help you sleep better than unhealthy ones. 

People living near the Mediterranean Basin prefer plant-based food items and healthy fats such as olive oil. At the same time, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes limiting sugar and meat consumption. 

Research has revealed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved sleep quality. Even DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) eating plan is said to decrease sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness, and insomnia. 

We’ll now discuss foods that facilitate sleep and improve overall sleep quality. 

1. Kiwi

Loaded with the goodness of folate, potassium, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C, the health benefits of consuming kiwi fruits are several. Though small, these nutritional powerhouses aid digestion, improve sleep and protect the body from germs. Eating kiwi before bedtime may help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep throughout the sleep cycle. 

2. Fruits And Vegetables

Eating more servings of vegetables and fruits may increase your sleep duration, meaning you’ll be able to sleep for longer periods. Regular consumption of vegetables and fruits may also reduce insomnia. 

While the exact reason is yet to be known, a few fruits and vegetables are said to contain melatonin– a hormone that facilitates sleep. Some fruits with high levels of melatonin are peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and grapes. 

3. Nuts

Nuts are high in minerals, vitamins, and fibers; therefore, they may be beneficial in aiding sleep. 

Among the nuts, pistachios contain the highest levels of melatonin, while even consuming walnuts can increase melatonin levels. Walnuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, so consuming them can improve your quality of sleep. 

Even pumpkin seeds bring a lot to the table because they are high in magnesium and zinc. Besides, they are a good source of tryptophan, so there’s a high possibility that pumpkin seeds may help individuals suffering from sleep deprivation. 

4. Fatty Fish

Besides being rich in protein, fish is packed with lots of nutrients like choline, Vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. Fish with high levels of fat are also said to improve the quality of sleep, though there is little evidence. 

Types of fish that may help you sleep better are:

  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Orange roughy
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon

Also, fatty fish contain high levels of Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, which may regulate the sleep cycle because of serotonin production. 

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains support physical health because they are loaded with essential nutrients. 

Since they contain zinc and melatonin– two sleep-promoting nutrients, eating them could reduce the risk of chronic insomnia. However, refrain from eating refined grains because they may have a negative impact, increasing the likelihood of insomnia. 

6. Herbs And Herbal Teas

For centuries, herbs have been well-known for their therapeutic benefits. Therefore, several herbs, like valerian, lavender, and St. John’s Wort is believed to promote sleep in humans by regulating a chemical messenger in the body, GAB. 

Known for promoting relaxation, chamomile tea may suppress anxiety and possibly help individuals sleep, though there is no strong evidence to back these claims. Still, it’s a healthy alternative to caffeine and alcohol, so you can drink it late evening. 

How Does Sleep Affect Nutrition And Body Weight?

Our food choices are influenced by sleep, both adequate sleep and inadequate sleep. Not just that, but our sleep patterns also affect the way our bodies use the food we eat. 

Sleep plays an important role in the production of chemical messengers, ghrelin and leptin, known to influence metabolism. Ghrelin and leptin are 2 hunger hormones that control your appetite. Moreover, appetite and body weight regulation are often regulated by the central nervous system (CNS). 

While ghrelin increases individuals’ appetite, leptin decreases it, meaning they instruct the brain when to consume food. And sleep restriction affects the release of these 2 neurotransmitters. When we don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin increases our appetite because our bodies aren’t as energy-efficient as they should be. 

Individuals with chronic sleep loss are attracted to high-calorie foods, which ultimately leads to weight gain. Numerous studies reveal that people who don’t get adequate sleep, precisely those who sleep less than 6 hours are at risk of developing obesity and other severe medical conditions. 

In addition, short sleepers have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Basically, metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that put individuals at risk of abdominal obesity and cardiovascular disease. 

For instance, abdominal obesity is a condition characterized by an abnormally wide waistline, which is prevalent in people who have insomnia or chronic sleep disorder. 

How To Improve Sleep And Diet?

The connection between sleep and diet is complex, but improving health and sleep is impossible without understanding that. As you improve your nutrient intake and diet quality, your sleep duration will automatically improve. 

In order to help you lead a healthy life, we’ve put together some effective ways to improve sleep and diet. 

1. Refrain From Consuming Caffeine After Midday

As already mentioned, excessive caffeine intake reduces the primary metabolite melatonin, 6-sulfatoxymelatonin, which is why it gets increasingly challenging for individuals to sleep. 

A minimum of 8 hours prior to bed, every individual should cut down on caffeine use, or falling asleep will become difficult. That is to say, if you go to bed at 11 at night, you mustn’t consume caffeine after 3 P.M. This practice will minimize sleep problems in sleep-deprived individuals. 

When speaking of caffeine, we don’t only mean to limit the intake of coffee, but all food items that contain caffeine, like chocolate, energy drinks, and so on. 

2. Avoid Foods That Contain Added Sugar

Foods such as cookies, cakes, candies, dairy desserts, and sweetened drinks possibly cause obesity because of the number of calories they contain. 

But obesity isn’t the only health risk associated with consuming sugar. It is also linked to several chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cancer. 

Not many are aware that excessive consumption of sugar could potentially lead to cognitive decline, making you super-anxious and depressed. Therefore, limiting food items with added sugar will lower the risk of obesity, ultimately decreasing your chances of developing diabetes. 

3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

A catchall term for behaviors and habits that influence sleep is sleep hygiene. 

You can achieve better sleep by incorporating healthy sleep habits, whereas you’ll suffer from chronic sleep deprivation if your sleep hygiene is poor. Practicing good sleep hygiene won’t only help you sleep better, but it will also keep you productive and energetic throughout the day. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the principles of good sleep hygiene that you must practice to counteract sleep problems. 

I. Soak in some Vitamin D daily to ensure your circadian cycle is properly aligned. 

II. Exercise daily for at least an hour between morning and noon

III. Avoid physical activity close to bedtime as it may cause arousal and make sleep difficult. 

IV. Dozing off after 3 P.M. leads to sleep deprivation, so avoid that. 

V. Day nap duration shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes. 

VI. Refrain from chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes, and consuming other tobacco products. 

VII. Inculcate a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. 

4. Consult A Healthcare Professional

For every sleep-deprived individual, sleep deprivation is a cause of stress. 

If symptoms of insomnia persist for weeks, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional. Even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, short sleep duration is reason enough to visit a doctor. Your doctor may help you identify the underlying cause of sleep deprivation. They may also prescribe sleep medicine along with a proper nutrition plan.


So, it’s evident: what you consume every day has a significant impact on your bodily functions, including sleep. As a result, keeping an eye on your food intake is important to improve sleep quality and regulate the sleep-wake cycle. 

Sleep deprivation can harm the physical and mental health of those suffering from it. Unknown to many, sleep deprivation affects hunger hormones that control satiety and appetite, causing individuals to shift from healthy diets to poor food choices, leading to weight gain. 

Such individuals tend to indulge in emotional eating and consume more high-sugar and high-fat foods. In the worst-case scenario, they lose control over food consumption and develop a binge-eating disorder. 

Therefore, maintaining a healthy balance between sleep and nutrition is important. If you don’t know where to start, consulting a healthcare professional will be the best way forward. And lastly, make sure to practice good sleep hygiene, to notice a positive difference in less than a month.