Food and Sleep: 2021 Update

Sleep is one of the most important things you need to maintain good health. Many sleep disorders and other conditions can hamper your ability to get the quality sleep you need. Some of these disorders are correlated to constant stress and anxiety. Diet is also a contributing factor to sleep health. Something as simple as eating at the wrong time of day can drastically alter your quality of sleep. Much of our sleep health can be explained by the complex rhythms and cycles our bodies follow.

Circadian Rhythm

We owe much of our normal, consistent sleep to the circadian rhythm. This biological clock tells us when to sleep and for how long. The circadian rhythm is usually reliable, and under normal circumstances, helps us get the right amount of sleep at the right time each night. An important part of the circadian rhythm is the synchronization of our sleep with the rising and setting of the sun. Unfortunately, modern life can often impair our body’s ability to stick to regular patterns of sleep. These abnormal sleep patterns can eventually lead to disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, excessive sleepiness, narcolepsy, and other sleep related conditions.

In an increasingly busy and chaotic world, we are barraged with noise, artificial light, and other distractions that keep us from going to sleep when our bodies should. Sleeping habits can also be disrupted by what we consume. Food and beverage that contain caffeine, alcohol or sugar can directly impact when and how well we sleep.

Certain foods can have strange effects on your sleep quality .

Food and Sleep

While you might not realize it, certain food can have strange effects on your sleep quality and could be to blame for sleepless nights or groggy mornings. Caffeine, for instance, can drastically alter your body’s natural bedtime, often extending it up to 10-12 hours later than usual. This is especially noticeable when drinking caffeine late at night.

Spicy and acidic foods can also impact sleep by causing heartburn. Heartburn is often exacerbated for those that already suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. Eating foods heavy in spice late at night can make this worse, as lying down before heartburn has dissipated often makes it worse, thus hindering sleep.

Conversely, refreshments such as warm milk may be able to help lull you into sleep with the aid of tryptophan. The body uses tryptophan similarly to the chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that aids with sleep patterns as well as appetite and other functions. For some, a small glass of warm milk might help you unwind before bed.

The Effects of Eating Too Late

While eating certain foods can have unique effects on your sleep quality, it is also important to consider when you eat. In terms of circadian rhythm, eating at unpredictable and abnormal times can throw your sleep cycle out of sync.

A growing area of research has shown that our circadian rhythm is correlated to our daily mealtimes. At night, food intake should be kept to a minimum, helping us wake up in the morning for an energizing breakfast or an early lunch. This pattern helps us adhere to the more natural sleep cycle we have evolved with. Naturally, food is more abundant during the daytime, with nighttime used as a resting period. In modern society, we have plentiful access to food and other stimulants at night which can throw off our circadian rhythm and cause us to be lethargic or lack energy the next day.


Overall, when it comes to food and sleep, it seems that consistency is the key. It is important to avoid food that can adversely affect our ability to relax or get comfortable later in the day. While other conditions, sleep disorders or daily stressors can alter our sleep quality, eating the right food at the right time should help our bodies sleep more consistently, leaving us feeling more refreshed and well-rested every morning.