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Jan 28, 2019 Diet & Nutrition Sharon Aaron 1,034 views

Research has recently given us reason to make sure our quality and quantity of sleep is adequate. Interestingly many studies are investigating the relationship between sleep disturbances and obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, increasing waist to hip ratios and the escalating BMI. It seems that poor sleep is not only making us cranky, contributing to our brain fog, but it could in fact also be a factor towards our ever-increasing waistline! (1,2,3)

A combination of many components are at play as our quality and quantity of sleep dwindles.

Our circadian clock controls sleep timing and the disruption may have an impact on Body Mass Index (BMI). Roenneberg et al, in 2012, in a large scale epidemiological study showed that  “living against the clock” may in fact be a contributing factor to the “obesity epidemic”. (5)

So how does poor sleep quality and quantity disrupt weight regulation:

There may be a few mechanisms contributing :

  • Poor sleep may reduce insulin sensitivity, decrease metabolic rate and increase food intake.
  • Poor sleep may have an impact on appetite due to changes in levels of appetite regulating hormones such as leptin and Ghrelin.  Ghrelin is the ‘hunger hormone’ and leptin is the ‘satiety hormone’. In simple terms – Less sleep may mean less leptin and more ghrelin. So you may feel hungrier and less satisfied when your sleep is diminishing.
  • According to Bayon et al, a relatively new factor contributing to sleep deprivation is the use of electronic devices which are in turn leading to a very sedentary lifestyle and an increase in calorie intake.
  • Lack of sleep erodes willpower…we all know how that happens!
  • Sleep deprivation reduces desire to exercise and general lethargy sets in.


Good sleep hygiene is essential when trying to get back into a regular sleep pattern. Here are some simple dietary suggestions that may help you get back on track.

Foods to embrace that may help you sleep:

Good quality Protein – protein is made up of amino acids and one of them L-tryptophan has an important role in regulating sleep as it is required for the production of melatonin.  Foods like salmon, cheese, eggs, nuts and seeds are rich sources of L-tryptophan. Good quality protein will also help stabilize blood sugar which can in turn help with sleep as it prevents night-time hypoglycaemia (drop in blood sugar) which sometimes may be the cause for nocturnal waking. (4)

Essential Fatty acids – Essential fatty acids are found in foods like nuts, seeds and fish – have also been shown to play a part in the regulation of sleep. (9

Magnesium – magnesium is essential for hundreds of processes in the body and a deficiency is common. Therapeutic doses of magnesium have been shown to support the nervous system and help with sleep disorders. Speak to your healthcare practitioner to find out more and get the right dosage for you. (4,10)

Foods rich in vitamins B and magnesium are helpful as these nutrients are required for the synthesis of serotonin. Serotonin regulation supports and improves melatonin pathways which are associated with good quality sleep.

Herbal teas like chamomile or lavender are great alternatives to caffeine and alcohol especially before bedtime.

Foods to avoid whilst trying to improve your sleep:

Sugar: Sugar is regarded as a stimulant and should be avoided when trying to get back into a sleep pattern particularly later on in the day. According to Humphries et al, artificial sweeteners as well including aspartame have been associated with insomnia so therefore should also be avoided when trying to regulate sleep patterns back to normal. (4,8)

Caffeine: Having caffeine (in all forms) has been associated with decreased sleep quality, so avoid all forms of caffeine including – chocolate, coffee, caffeinated beverages. A systematic review of caffeine abstinence and its effect on quality of sleep revealed that the removal of caffeine was associated with improved sleep quality and duration. (7)

Alcohol: Sleep disruptions such as sleep apnoea and loud snoring are associated with alcohol ingestion. Although alcohol may have sedative properties, it is also a stimulant and may affect the type and quality of sleep after ingestion. (5,6)

There are many relaxation techniques that may help us sleep – it’s important to find the one that works for you. On a more personal note I have finally found a technique that works for me. 20 minutes of gentle meditation if I wake at night, helps me drop into a deep and refreshing sleep. Find what works for you because as Thomas Dekker quoted;

“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”


  • Taheri S et al, 2004, Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. Dec: 1(3): in Pubmed
  • Brady EM et al,2018, Sleep duration, obesity and insulin resistance in a multi-ethnic UK population at high risk of diabetes. Diabetes Res Clinic Pract. 2018 May:139: 195-202 in Pubmed
  • Bayon V et al, 2014, Sleep Debt and obesity. Ann Med. Aug:46(5)264-72 in Pubmed
  • Hechtman L,2012, Clinical naturopathic Medicine, Elsevier, Australia, pages 1206 – 1211
  • Roenneberg T, Allebrandt KV, Merrow M,  Vetter C, Social Jetlag and Obesity, Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 8, 22 April 2013, Pages 737
  • Riemann R et al, “The influence of nocturnal alcohol ingestion on snoring.” Eur Arch. Otorhinolaryngol 2009 Dec 1:
  • Sin CW, Ho JS, Chung JW, Systematic review on the effectiveness of caffeine abstinence on the quality of sleep. J Clin Nurs, 2009 Jan;18 (1) 13-21
  • Humphries P, Pretorius E, Naude H, Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain, Eur J Clin Nutr, 2008 Apr 62(4) 451-62
  • Yehuda S, et al, Essential fatty acids and sleep: mini review and hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses 1998;50, 139-45
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About The Author - Sharon Aaron

Sharon is a qualified nutritionist and a strict believer of using ‘Food as Medicine’. She feels strongly that lifestyle changes and making simple dietary changes can have a significant effect on our health.

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