Did you know that what—and how much—you eat can have a huge impact on how well you sleep?
Well, it does. And more than you think.
Because while you might never have thought about how your nutrition may affect your sleep, it has a bigger impact than most of us realize.
While society may constantly push the idea that eating less is better (and that we should constantly try to lose weight), sometimes eating more is the right answer—not only for your athletic performance, but also for your quality of sleep.
Get to Sleep Naturally
Most of us have had trouble falling asleep as well as staying asleep. After tossing and turning, sometimes even for a few hours, we finally fall asleep. And what often seems like 15 minutes later, the alarm goes off…
We’ve all heard about importance of sleep, yet many of us don’t prioritize it, or start to only when it becomes a real problem.
If you don’t sleep as well as you’d like to, you may have turned to natural supplements, teas, or even sleeping pills to try and sleep better. And although you may have tried a lot of that stuff and found that while some of it worked for a short while, others did nothing.
But relying on sleep medicine isn’t the answer to sleep issues. We should be able to fall asleep and stay asleep naturally, according to our circadian rhythm—and without tricks or pills.
What Happens In the Body When We’re Asleep
Our bodies are set up to do the most important physical repair work between 10pm and 2am.
Recovering from our workouts is a large part of this physical repair work, because that’s the muscle building time. Our muscles don’t grow and strengthen while we’re working out—this happens later, when we’re resting.
Somewhere around 2am and until we wake up is the time our bodies do most of the mental repair work. This is when our brains are processing everything that happened the day before, going over conversations and solving problems.
Energy Demands During Sleep
Although we use the bulk of our energy (a.k.a. food) when we’re awake or while we’re working out, we also burn energy when we’re asleep. The energy is used to make these physical and mental repairs that we just mentioned.
This is where nutrition comes into play. It’s incredibly important eat enough to have enough resources for these repairs. Not eating enough calories may cause restless sleep or waking up often at night.
You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to eat a lot in the evening, because you want to give our digestion a rest, or that skipping a meal at night will help you lose weight easier. But going to bed hungry may mean that you don’t have enough energy to get your body through these physical and mental processes that it needs to take care of. Instead of waking up in the morning rested and ready to kick off the day, you’re groggy and dragging because you didn’t sleep well.
Fluctuation of Stress Hormones
If you haven’t eaten sufficiently during the day, levels of your stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol will peak at different times than when they’re supposed to.
For example, if you haven’t eaten enough, your adrenaline increases when you go to bed or during the first hours of your sleep, and you may have hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. This adrenaline peak often happens around 1-2am, waking you up or keeping you constantly tossing and turning around this time at night.
Cortisol levels should be low when you go to bed, to get you ready for sleep. They should then start rising gradually as the morning is getting closer and wake you up. However, if you haven’t eaten enough during the day, cortisol levels are high already when you go to bed, and they reach their peak much earlier than they’re supposed to. That also means you’re up way earlier than you wanted.
Even if you sleep through the night but have night sweats, nightmares, or just very a restless sleep, these things can simply be caused by not having enough energy in our bodies.
How To Eat For Better Sleep
Many people keep their dinners small because they’ve heard that any food they eat late at night will turn into fat.
For the same reason, they may be afraid of carbs, so they have something small as low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with maybe some berries or nut butter, or a very light salad instead of a proper dinner. These may be okay post dinner snacks, but they aren’t proper meals, especially when you’re physically active.
Remember, what you eat during the day will affect the way you sleep at night.
Make sure that you have a proper meal at night, that is complete with all three macronutrients–carbs, protein and fat. Eat until you’re comfortably full, and forget about all the “food rules” you may have heard about eating at night (like not eating after 6pm or other similar “rules”).
Having a snack before bed may be useful too, because it provides you more energy that is needed to do all the essential repair work we talked about before. Here are some good before bed snack ideas!
Eating Enough = Better Sleep
Good sleep is extremely important for good health, both physical and physiological. What you eat during the day can have a big impact on your sleep.
Don’t skip meals! If you’ve been afraid of eating at night and your sleep is bad, a small snack after dinner or right before bedtime can give you some much needed energy that helps you sleep until morning.
Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, bootcamp instructor and personal trainer located on the East Bay, California. Check out her website here to learn about her take on womens’ health and hormones, balanced and obsession-free living and get her best 30-minute workouts.
15 thoughts on “Trouble Sleeping? You Might Not Be Eating Enough”
Fantastic article. I think this is what I am going through right now. I am 38 and never had a bad day of sleep in my life but after a trip to Europe in which I lost about 5lbs due to not eating enough and a lot of walking I came back home and have been waking up multiple times a night since it’s been 4 months now and I have tried everything. Except actually eating a lot more and trying to gain the weight back. This makes a lot of sense and I will try it ! Thanks !
So true. I started a keto diet today skipped breakfast and am now awake at 1 o’clock in the morning reading this article whereas previously I was sleeping through
I had been sedentary for the last year and evaluated my sleep. I found that I wasn’t eatingb 3 breaks a day and not exercising. In the last 2 days I’ve only gotten 2-3 hrs sleep and my blood pressure jumped sky high. I had so much energy in the sleep I got that I had energy unlike I’ve ever had and loved ! I plan 2 keep a journal ad so found why my no jumped and am rectifying my old and habits. This article is awesome! I’ll take my 2-3 hrs that got me spring cleaning and taking a walk unlike all year. The cell is hard to kick so tonite it stays in the other room. THANKS 4 THE ARTICLE. DO MORE!
Hey Kersten ! Thank you so much for this article, it exactly explains what happens to me now. I train a lot and unless my meals are spot on, I don’t sleep well at all. It can be really frustrating as after dinner sometimes I feel full, but when I go to sleep Im hungry after an hour or so. I will pay more attention to this.
I recently did a drastic cut back on my carb consumption and within a short space of time started waking up way too early and very hungry (or ’empty’). As this has happened in the past when I’ve cut back carbs, I put two and two together and reading your article has made me realise that I just don’t sleep properly when I don’t eat properly. I’ve only been having salad with protein at dinner time and this is obviously not enough. Time to bring back the complex carbs!
I’ve been awake since 2 am, and now I’m reading this article. I’ve gained 30lbs in 6 months because of Quarantine so I’ve been counting calories but noticed since I started dieting and exercising that I cant sleep 😔
Well you are not alone!! I too have gained weight during quarantine and recently started dieting I woke up at 6 am went to sleep at 9 awake at 1am lol and reading this article
This is my life at the moment ! I have lost forty pounds and cannot sleep through the night anymore – it takes me ages to go to sleep and then I am awake two hours later 🤨
This is me right now too! Physically am in the best shape of my life and within spitting distance of seeing all of my abs for the first time – yet I can’t sleep! 🙁
This article is the best l’ve read on sleep my entire life and I’m 59. Very under weight and unhealthy. My sleep has been horrible for many years now. And couldn’t understand or find answers. I finally connected the dots and realized that when l could manage to eat a bit more …
I did sleep better, unbelievable! So l looked this up to double check if l might be on the right path of thinking. Health problems have made it difficult to eat normally but now l at least understand my lack of sleep better. 3 days, going on 7.5 hrs sleep is not good/healthy!
Thank you kindly for this information,
Cool article. I have lost some weight and work in dance and fitness. Since last lockdown I started exercising even more and being on point with macros and calories for a cut. Although I am never hungry I would potentially have weekends off for refeed and so on. I maintained a lean physiwue for a full year now. Last week I dediced to reverse diet and go into a bulk phase. I have now being on mantainance calories for a week and have had the first 2 nights of uninterrupted sleep for 6 hours since Jan 2020. I am going to kwwp watch to see how it carries on affecting me. But have a feeling that its related!
I ve recently started on a low carb snd higher protein regime. Slimming down, but over last week or so, getting a good nights sleep is impossible. Waking up about 2am and thats it gor the night.
Thanks for tips. I m definitely going to try a snack bedire bedtime. I d rather sleepbwell than be skinny.
Whenever I skip a meal or if I don’t eat in time during the day I end up waking up in the night to compensate. Am just from having a meal because I couldn’t sleep through the pangs of hunger cutting through. Waking up to snack was somewhat of a routine until I came to the above realization .keeping a healthy snack on stand by like a fruit or yoghurt helps to ensure you manage your weight.I now sleep better but once in a while I forget to eat and end up waking up to snack .
Wow why is this not discussed more, actually I think it is “but not in the term of can’t (sleep in a Calorie deficit)“
Look at intermittent fasting and keto forums it’s a massive discussion there but I guarantee calorie deficit through these diet protocols is largely contributing to their insomnia
I have tested dozens of times if I eat less than my body needs I wake up 1-2 hours earlier than I normally do? This is why I find it so hard to loose and keep weight off, my body is purposely doing this and fighting me losing weight
I have experimented tons of times intermittent fasting, low carb but actually when I eat on these protocols to maintenance I sleep well, I did keto a while back under 20 g sleep bad when ate till full but on days I ate more than I needed I sleep really well this proves to me it’s calorie controlled sleeping, only if I do exercise 3 hours before bed am unlikely to keep cortisol in check and sleep better, but working out 7 nights a week is unsustainable
Then again we are all different, but my body and genetics is determined to keep me soft and squidgy, I have paid thousands in private experts and nothing ever fixed this problem,
Dieting or calorie deficit raises cortisol , the higher the deficit the higher the cortisol, for a set percentage of people increased cortisol can effect sleep Quality, especially emotional people.
If dieting had little side effects weight loss would be easy, this is why 65% of people are over weight as the body fights back!!