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Sleep Is Powerful

When you think about healthy living you may tend to focus on your diet, or exercise, and completely forget the restorative power of sleep to improve your health. In Thomas Cogan’s book The Haven of Health, which was written in 1584, he discusses the connection between foods ingested and quality of sleep and makes claims that digestive “vapors” from meat, milk, and wine create good sleep. Research has come a long way since Cogan’s claims to truly investigate how dietary changes can affect our rest. Although the term “good” sleep needs further interpretation, current research does support that diet does indeed have a direct effect on sleep patterns.

Diet and sleep research

In a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, findings published in 2013, researchers identified different associations between sleep time and the types of nutrients the participants ate. The study found that very short sleepers consumed less tap water, total carbohydrates, and a compound found in red and orange foods, compared with the others. Long sleepers consumed less of a compound found in tea and chocolate, in addition to choline, which is found in eggs and some meat. Long sleepers also consumed more alcohol.

In Russell Foster’s TED Talk entitled “Why do we sleep?” he sums up why alcohol shouldn’t be relied upon long term to fall asleep: “alcohol doesn’t provide a biological mimic for sleep it sedates you; so it actually harms some of the neurological processing going on during memory consolidation and memory recall.” The American Academy of Sleep Medicine conducted a study in 2016, and found that eating LESS fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep. Typically a good whole food plant-based diet is full of fiber, low in saturated fats, and low in refined sugar, which will make for good sleep. A study conducted on animals also confirmed this outcome when studying two groups of mice, one fed regular chow, the other fed chow that was higher in fat. The mice who consumed a higher fat diet did experience sleep disturbances and less time in REM sleep, which is the most restorative phase of the sleep cycle.

Good Nutrition Equals Better 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. According to the study conducted at Perelman School of Medicine, the very short and long sleepers consumed a less varietal diet than those who were considered normal sleepers. Although there is more research needed to ascertain how changing one’s diet can change sleep patterns, the research study entitled, “Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity,” makes it clear that not getting enough sleep can decrease the proportion of weight loss as fat by at least 55%, and can promote unhealthy dietary cravings. Other research studies have shown that lack of sleep can negatively affect eating behaviors. Short sleep, poor sleep quality, and later bedtimes are associated with increased food intake, poor diet quality, and excess body weight. Some researchers believe that the fact that lack of sleep increases snacking may be due to several factors including: more opportunities for eating due to later sleep time, psychological distress, more energy needed to sustain wakefulness at late hours, and changes in appetite hormones.

Thomas Cogan’s original claims that meat, milk, and alcohol contribute to “good” sleep could be reinterpreted behind the lens of current research to say that in some people those substances cause longer sleep, which doesn’t necessarily equate to the highest quality of restoration. Instead it points to the fact that their bodies’  most likely need a longer period of time to restore, process, and cleanse given the kind of food they are consuming. Your best bet, is to eat a high quality whole foods diet, and aim to get seven to eight good hours of sleep nightly to improve your overall health.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2016, January 14). What you eat can influence how you sleep: Daily intake of fiber, saturated fat and sugar may impact sleep quality. Science Daily. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from

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