Sleep and diet: what to eat to sleep well

Sleep and diet: what to eat to sleep well


What's on our plate could have an impact even on our pillow! Indeed, our diet would influence our sleep in different ways… for better or for worse!

Sleep governed by our hormones< /strong>

Diet influences the production of certain hormones necessary for sleep to take place. To sleep, the body needs to secrete melatonin – the sleep hormone – which is synthesized from serotonin, another hormone that regulates mood and relaxation, among other things. The production of serotonin is in turn influenced by the amino acids tryptophan, which must be present in sufficient quantities in the body. And since the body does not manufacture them, it must draw them from its diet. However, for serotonin to be synthesized, the concentration of tryptophans must be higher than those of other amino acids. Indeed, these compete with each other in order to pass to the nervous system. “If we want the tryptophan concentration to be high enough, it must be accompanied by a carbohydrate intake in order to cross this barrier”, notes Marlène Bouillon, nutritionist, scientific director and vice-president of NutriSimple. But not just any carbs! “You have to bet on complex carbohydrates which stabilize blood sugar and induce deeper and more restorative sleep”, she specifies.

The right foods… at the right time!< /strong>

To sleep well, there are no “miracle” foods that would have an immediate effect for everyone. “It is better to focus on the overall quality of the diet rather than just one or two foods. It’s what we consume day after day that is important,” says Marlène Bouillon.

When you eat them is just as important. “There are serotonergic foods that promote sleep more, and other dopaminergic ones that stimulate wakefulness. It is therefore necessary to take the right foods at the right time”, explains Véronique Bellemare, naturopath, somnopaedagogueTM and founding president of the Somna Institute. Protein provides energy and would therefore benefit from being consumed at the start of the day or at midday to promote energy and wakefulness, while carbohydrates and other “pro-sleep” nutrients, such as tryptophan and magnesium, should be favored during evening meals.

Reviewing the composition of our meals could be a starting point for potentially sleeping better. A higher amount of protein at breakfast is needed to start the day with energy. But large dinners would therefore benefit from being transformed into lighter meals, rich in complex carbohydrates and containing less protein to promote better sleep. Especially since a hearty meal makes digestion more difficult, in particular by increasing body temperature and thus disturbing sleep. This is why it is better to avoid eating two hours before slipping into bed, while avoiding slipping in hungry, otherwise the body will secrete a stimulating hormone, believing itself to be in “survival” mode.


The onset of sleep therefore depends on both what we eat and… what we don't eat! And even, as long as we do it!

And the hot milk?

Nothing better than a cup of hot milk to promote sleep? Maybe… but the explanation is not based on any scientific data. It is true that milk contains valuable tryptophans, but in insufficient quantities to invite sleep for sure. The real power of hot milk would rather be due to the fact that it is attached to a comforting memory, often dating back to childhood. “Even if the milk contains magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxant, its positive side comes rather from the placebo effect created by the ritual”, underlines Véronique Bellemare. “It's like a comforter! Believing that drinking hot milk will help us fall asleep… actually helps us! But that's not science! says Marlène Bouillon.

Also, the simple fact of being well hydrated would also promote good nights. Indeed, it would rather be dehydration that would cause our nocturnal awakenings and not our need to urinate which would rather manifest itself once our eyes are open. A study from the University of Pennsylvania reveals that people who slept only six hours a night were between 16% and 59% less hydrated than those who had nights of eight hours, demonstrating that hydration would be a key factor for sleep well. 



Amino acid that promotes sleep and reduces stress. As our body does not produce it, it is our diet that provides it. It needs B-complex vitamins and carbohydrates to be transformed and used by our body in the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Complex vitamins B

They regulate hormonal activity, helping among other things to transform tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin.


It is considered a relaxant, which can induce better sleep. It also helps support the production of serotonin. 

Here are 10 foods to help your sleep 

1 Milk

Of course, milk contains tryptophan, but also magnesium and B vitamins; a trio that can promote sleep. It's even better if you accompany the dairy product with a carbohydrate intake, such as a dry biscuit or dates. 

2 Dates

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In addition to tryptophan, dates are rich in potassium, which helps you sleep better because this nutrient has relaxing properties. In addition to promoting muscle relaxation, it would also reduce night cramps. 

3 Bananas

This would be a great pre-sleep snack! First, it is a very digestible fruit which, in addition to tryptophans, contains magnesium which contributes to the production of serotonin. “A good idea? I freeze bananas which I then put in a blender to make a mixture that looks like ice cream. On hot summer evenings, it is an effective snack! » highlights Véronique Bellemare. 

4 Legumes

Whether red or black beans, chickpeas or still the lentils, they are good choices. Consider combining them with a source of complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or quinoa, or even hummus with some vegetables. 

5 Cashews

Their tryptophan content is excellent and these nuts contain vitamins B6, E and K, in addition to magnesium, manganese and iron. It is therefore a good choice for an evening snack. 

6 Brown rice

First, it is satiating, so it prevents cravings after meals. In addition, it has a low glycemic index, which means that the carbohydrates it provides are transformed into energy by the body on a more regular basis. Good choice for dinner! 

7 Quinoa

This gluten-free pseudo-cereal has the interesting characteristic of produce a good effect of satiety, which reduces the risk of cravings that can disturb your sleep or delay falling asleep. Because it contains various nutrients – including magnesium, several B-complex vitamins and tryptophan – eating it at night can help improve the quality of your night. 

8 lawyers

This fruit – botanically speaking, although it is more like a vegetable – contains the winning trio: tryptophan, B vitamins and magnesium. A good idea ? A slice of whole grain bread spread with mashed avocado with some shrimp. 

9 Fish and shellfish

< p>Good choices for their tryptophan intake include salmon, halibut, sardines, cod and shrimp. For their magnesium content, we look for salmon, mackerel and halibut. Sardines are “good for morale” fish, due to their vitamin B6 content. Of course, opt for non-fried fish! 

10 Seeds

Those of linen and pumpkins are among the favorites. Yes, they contain tryptophans, like sesame and sunflower seeds, but they are also a good source of magnesium. Consider concocting a homemade granola to enjoy with milk or yogurt, or even adding these seeds to your next muffins. 

See why short nights make you eat less well


If our diet influences our sleep, the reverse is also true. “The relationship between food and sleep is bidirectional, notes Marlène Bouillon. Poor sleeping habits can translate into undesirable eating behaviors.” We only have to think of what happens to us when we put on fragmented nights or when we have a sleep deficit. During the following day, you can have food cravings and it is generally not towards the raw vegetable platter that you start!

According to certain studies, subscribers to short nights would consume more calories daily, adding sugary snacks throughout the day because their reward center in their brain would be stimulated more. However, hunger would be expressed differently depending on our sex. Women would not feel the satiety signal that leads them to stop eating as much, and men would have a greater appetite.

In addition, lack of sleep means that our body needs more energy. energy, which could lead us to eat more. Not to mention the fact that when we don't sleep, we have more time to eat… and if we eat too much, our next night may be turned upside down!