The Nutrition Of Your Dreams: The Impact Of Diet On Sleeping Patterns

There has always been awareness that dietis linked to the length and quality of sleep. Cheese and chocolate have long been blamed for ‘bad dreams’ and alcohol in small doses is associated with promoting deep sleep. The truth is that certain nutrients do play an underlying role in our sleeping patterns and now for the first time a national study has provided a comprehensive insight into the relationship between food and sleep.

The sleeping patterns of participants were divided into four groups: very short duration sleep (< 5 hours per night), short duration (5-6:59 hours per night), standard duration (7-8:59 hours per night) and long duration (9+ hours per night).

Caloric intake varied between the groups with short duration sleepers having the highest calorie intake and long duration sleepers consuming the least calories of the four groups. Food variety was highest in standard sleepers and lowest in very short sleepers implying that a healthy balanced diet is key to optimal sleep duration.

Nutrient variances existed between the groups. Very short duration sleepers consumed less water, lycopene (found in red and orange foods) and carbohydrates than standard sleepers. Short duration sleepers consumed less water, vitamin C and selenium (nuts, meat, shelfish). Long duration sleepers consumed less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), saturated fat and choline (eggs and meat).

Ensuring that you consume a healthy and balanced diet will improve sleep duration and quality, which in turn improves health and encourages further healthy eating. Limited sleep is linked with overeating and eating ‘junk foods’ in a bid to increase energy levels that are lacking.


Grandner MA, Jackson NJ, Gerstner JR, Knutson KL, Dietary Nutrients Associated with Short and Long Sleep Duration. Data from a Nationally Representative Sample, Appetite, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.004

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.


  • Brian Smith
    February 7, 2013 Brian Smith

    I wonder what this survey would make of my dietary habits?

    Despite being over 65 I regularly sleep for more than 8 hours without waking, and given the opportunity will sleep for 9 or more without a break. I would definitely come into the standard or long categories as I never sleep for less than 7 hours. (Even though I have had minor prostate problems it is unusual for me to wake in the night.)

    Yet my diet would not be categorised as healthy by any stretch of the imagination - I love sweet foods, preferring cakes to fruit. Nor is it varied. I also consume very little water, apart from that which is found in my foods. Yet I have an active life, working as a handyman for up to 10 hours a day with very little food intake. I don't doze in front of the TV in the evenings, either!

    So whilst I accept that healthy eating can help some people, it isn't true for everyone. What is more important is to listen to your body and get to know what you, personally need. We are all unique and what works for one won't for another.

    • Steph

      Hi Brian,

      It is great that you find yourself getting enough sleep despite your diet not being the healthiest or balanced. As is the case with most scientific findings, there will always be a few exceptions to the rule. This is a national study and so takes into consideration a large group of people some of which I am sure would have fallen into the same category as you, but overall these were the findings.

      For the majority of people they will find that they sleep better if they improve their lifestyle. This includes activity levels and diet. As you said, you have an active job which probably explains why you sleep so soundly at night.

      I would still always stand by encouraging a healthy and balanced diet to maintain optimal health, well-being and fitness.

  • Karly - SleepPro

    Great insights Steph! There is conclusive evidence to suggest a link between our diets and sleep habits. When we eat healthier and lead healthier lifestyles you can expect to benefit from a better nights sleep. If we feast on junk food and are over weight, you may suffer sleep deprivation, snoring or sleep apnoea.

  • Karly - SleepPro

    Great insights Steph! The link between our diets and sleep has been evident for many years. It's a simply link that states if you lead a healthy lifestyle you will benefit from a better nights sleep. If you are unhealthy and over weight, you're likely to suffer from sleep disturbance such as snoring or sleep apnoea.

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