How diet can help with sleep

GoodLife is all about helping you live your best life, and we think there are four essentials to achieving that:

  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Fun, or me time
  • And, supporting all three, good, healthy food

Sleep is increasingly recognised as a cornerstone of our health, however, the complex relationship between nutrition and sleep is frequently overlooked.  It’s an important one to acknowledge though and can have a profound impact on our sleep quality. By eating smarter we could create opportunities to sleep better.


We’ve asked nutritionist, Sarah Ann Macklin to take us through the importance of good nutrition for achieving that refreshing, healthy night’s sleep.


Why is sleep important?

As we sleep, our mind and bodies receive important benefits.  Restorative sleep helps strengthen and support our immune system, enhances our recovery, fitness and manages body weight. Getting good quality sleep helps balance hormones, supports fertility, and helps cognitive performance and attention, which are important for learning.


We have four phases of sleep cycles: falling asleep, light sleep, slow wave sleep (deep sleep) and rapid eye movement (REM). REM sleep helps to support aspects of problem solving, emotional processing, and memory. Slow wave sleep is seen to be more restorative, helping to repair our muscles and immune system.


Long term, poor sleep is associated with serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and diabetes and impacts how we feel emotionally. By prioritizing sleep, we prioritise our health.


Nutrition and sleep

A study published in 2016 in the journal of clinical sleep medicine found that diet can influence sleep. They found low fibre and increased saturated fats and sugar, was associated with lighter, less restorative sleep.  The more fibre the participants consumed the more time they spent in deep sleep.


The study also found that participants fell asleep 12 minutes faster after eating mixed meals lower in saturated fat and higher in protein (1).


Fibre – how much do we need?

It is recommended that we consume at least 30g/d of fibre, yet only 9% of us are currently hitting this target! The average consumption is 19.7g, 66% of the recommendation.

Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate, which is broken down by bacteria in your large intestine and works with your microbes in your gut. You can find fibre from plant food sources including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, or GoodLife products such as the spicy bean burger and the falafels.


What does high in fibre look like? When reading food labels, high fibre is 6g per 100gram or over. But when increasing your fibre amount, do it slowly and with plenty of water. Increasing fibre into the diet too rapidly can cause gastrointestinal problems, because it makes bowel movements bigger and bulkier.


It is possible however, that a diet rich in fibre, with reduced sugar intake and other non-fibre carbohydrates may be a useful tool to improve sleep.


The importance of protein

Protein is important for many reasons, it helps with weight loss by making us feel fuller for longer, it repairs our muscles, and is associated with a better night’s sleep.


Animal sources of protein usually contain all your nine essential amino acids. In plant-based foods this is only apparent in quinoa and soya. If you are a veggie or vegan, look at combining different plant-based sources in one meal to make a complete protein. This could be hummus and rice crackers or wholegrains and nuts. The protein balls from GoodLife contain pea protein which do contain all your nine essential amino acids.  Alternatively, if you use their falafel in a salad and mix in either wild rice or chia seeds you will create a complete protein profile.


No caffeine after midday

Caffeine is a widely consumed psychoactive drug. Natural sources occur in coffee, tea, and chocolate, whilst syntenic caffeine is added to products to enhance stimulant properties. You may find these in protein shakes, protein bars and fizzy drinks.


Caffeine blocks our sleep promoting chemical Adenosine, which is produced in the brain during our waking hours. The more adenosine builds up, the sleepier we become.


This means that while caffeine can boost cognitive functioning, it can impair our sleep quality and efficiency at falling asleep. Try to stop consuming caffeine around mid-day to ensure a more restorative night’s sleep.


Post dinner sugar is a ‘no, no’

A study in 2016 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that sugar was linked to more restless, disturbed sleep (2).


Our blood sugar naturally rises in the evening as part of our circadian cycle. It is important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diseases such as diabetes. Good quality sleep and diet both help maintain this.


A sugar habit post dinner can set in motion a disrupted night’s sleep as well as igniting a spike in our blood sugar pre bedtime. Sugar also activates our brains rewards system, releasing the feel-good hormone, dopamine. This signal can activate cravings to consume more and before you know it, you’ve finished off that whole pack of biscuits.


Try to opt for a warming oat milk (with no added sugars) with cinnamon before bed. Cinnamon is good at balancing your blood sugar and oat milk is high in protein, as well as feeling comforting before bed.


It’s all about the timing

Enjoy a lighter meal in the evening because digesting your evening dinner, pushes up your body’s core temperature and delays your falling asleep. Plant sources compared to meat have normally lower amounts of fat. Fats take more time and effort to digest and break down when compared to protein or carbohydrates and therefore can help benefit a quicker digestion time. However, it is important to recognise, eating whole plant-based foods here is key.


Try to opt for a light dinner 3-4 hours before you go to sleep, to ensure a good quality night’s sleep.


Magical magnesium

Magnesium helps maintain healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps promote sleep. A lack of magnesium has been found to negatively impact sleep (3). Current research shows that additional magnesium can help the body relax and improve symptoms of insomnia.


Foods rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, legumes, seeds, yogurt and milk, tofu and soya and whole grains. GoodLife falafels’ main ingredients are chickpeas which are rich in magnesium. Consuming these alongside some greens and wholegrains is a fantastic magnesium rich meal.


Do be aware that exercise reduces your magnesium loss by 10-20%, so keep this in mind if you are an active individual. Before buying magnesium supplements, focusing on getting a good amount for magnesium from your diet. Whilst magnesium supplementation poses few risks, it is important to speak to your GP as it can interact with some medications.


Sleep can affect our diet too

Which came first, a poor diet and bad sleep, or bad sleep and a poor diet? It is a two-way street, because just as eating poorly can affect your sleep, poor sleep stimulates increased levels of your hunger hormone ghrelin where we seek out junk food and carbohydrates. Studies have shown adults who slept only four to five hours a night consumed more calories and snack more frequently throughout the day (4).


To give yourself the best chance of a good quality night’s sleep try to follow these tips:

  • Set up a regular sleep routine. Try to aim for a regular bedtime, dim down lights before bed, put away electronics and aim to wind down.
  • Set a cool and calming environment. A cool room will help aid a good night’s sleep. Try to keep work and phones outside and allow your bedroom to be a sanctuary.
  • Check in with your diet throughout the day. Are you consuming plenty of plant-based foods, good quality protein, complex carbohydrates, and limited sugar?
  • Have you spent time outside and stretched your legs? Day light is really important for our circadian rhythms and sleep cycle.
  • Limit your nap time to 20-30 minutes, going over this can affect you falling to sleep in the evening as you start entering REM sleep.
  • Reduce your amount of caffeine post 12 noon. Fill up on water and herbal teas.
  • Limit alcohol
  • Try not to eat too late and make it a lighter meal like one of these


  1. St-Onge, M.-P., Roberts, A., Shechter, A. and Choudhury, A.R. (2016). Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, [online] 12(01), pp.19–24.
  2. St-Onge, M.-P., Roberts, A., Shechter, A. and Choudhury, A.R. (2016). Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, [online] 12(01), pp.19–24


  1. Djokic et al.(2019) “The Effects of Magnesium – Melatonin – Vit B Complex Supplementation in Treatment of Insomnia,” Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(18), pp. 3101–3105.


  1. ‌Nedeltcheva, A.V., Kilkus, J.M., Imperial, J., Kasza, K., Schoeller, D.A. and Penev, P.D. (2008). Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), pp.126–133.