The Physicians Committee

Eat Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

  February 19, 2016    

According to a new study, 1 in 3 Americans are chronically sleep deprived. And we’re paying for it—not just by dozing off and yawning throughout the day, but through our overall health.

When we sleep, our brains act like a road crew that comes out at night to fill in potholes and repave roads before the morning rush hour. Our bodies need sleep to rest and recharge. Without a sufficient amount of sleep—seven to eight hours for most people—we increase our risk for developing serious health problems. Sleep deprivation has been tied to obesity, elevated blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cutting caffeine, reducing alcohol intake, staying active during the day, and maintaining a consistent schedule can all set the tone for a good night’s sleep. But evidence suggests that diet may play a role, too.


One recent study found that diets rich in fiber and low in saturated fat can lead to deeper, more restorative sleep. It’s not uncommon for people who have improved their diets to report that they feel energized during the day and sleep better at night. Last year, when Jere Downs traded in greasy burgers and fries for green smoothies and chickpea sandwiches on a 22-day vegan challenge, she reported that her “sleep is deep and uninterrupted. My eyes pop open at 6 a.m.”

So what makes plant-based foods so beneficial for sleep? Complex carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that calms your brain and helps you sleep. So building your dinner around starchy foods, like pasta, rice, and potatoes, will help you doze off and stay asleep through the night.

While many people believe that high-protein meals are key to getting a good night’s rest, the opposite is true. High-protein foods block the brain’s ability to produce serotonin. Because high-protein foods contain more amino acids, tryptophan—the amino acid that eventually turns into serotonin—is crowded out of the brain. As a result, high-protein foods will leave you feeling alert.

High-protein plant-based foods, like tofu, beans, and lentils, are very nutritious. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, try eating these foods earlier in the day. You’ll feel more alert during the day, while favoring carbohydrates later on can help you rest at night.

For more on diet and sleep, watch my appearance on The Ellen Show:




Plant Based Diet

Since my husband and I have eaten a plant based diet we feel much better, have lots of energy and sleep better.


I am still working on my sleep/wake patterns. Thanks for the advice

Rye bread

My 95-year old Dad used to wake up at 1 a.m. or so, go into the kitchen and make himself 2 slices of whole grain rye bread, slather it with margarine, warm up a cup of skim milk in the microwave and sit down with a book at the kitchen table, consumed his food and read for 20 minutes. Swore by it -- 'puts me to sleep 'til the alarm rings"! I accused him of just waking up to eat the rye bread -- guess he'd found something that had science behind it without even knowing about 'serotonin'. Good man. I don't do the milk, but the rye bread is a keeper! Works for me, too.

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