Health & nutrition insights.

Nutrition & Sleep

Follow the link to listen to the Practical Nutrition Podcast episode on this topic:


The elusive good night’s sleep too often seems just out of grasp in our busy, full lifestyles. If you are like many people, you have lots of barriers in your life that get in the way of getting a good night’s sleep-some you can control and some you can’t. We will focus on what you can control today in relation to habits, exercise and nutrition and the good news is that you can do a lot to help get the sleep you need!


We know from research that there is a cycle with inadequate sleep and poor eating and lifestyle habits. When we are tired and sleep deprived, we often don’t make the best choices like grabbing a sugary, processed snack to try to get quick energy or skipping that workout because we are too tired. Unfortunately, eating unhealthy food is also linked to poor sleep so it can be a vicious cycle, leading to sleep debt which can negatively affect your health and wellbeing. 


Some of the barriers that are associated with disrupted sleep patterns are pretty common. Does any of this happen in your world? 

  • You have kids
  • Your partner snores
  • Your brain has a hard time shutting off
  • You use electronics
  • You have high stress or anxiety
  • Your hormones are all over the place
  • You have to go to the bathroom at night
  • You have a pet
  • You don’t exercise 
  • You eat a highly processed, high sugar diet 
  • You take medications
  • You have underlying health conditions


It is no wonder that often we are walking around like zombies half the day, can’t remember things, are irritable, and want to grab that energy drink to get through the day!  There is a healthier answer than energy drinks, and we will shed some light on what you can do to really improve your sleep with improving your habits. We are going to discuss the newest research on sleep, why sleep is important, habits that really work and what food and supplements are out there that might help.  After we dive into all of these topics, we will also go over what happens if you have tried all the things and nothing works for you!

So, let’s start with some of the facts of sleep:

  • We spend ⅓ of our life asleep
  • Our brains are very active during sleep, so it is not a time where your body is doing nothing-there are many essential processes going on while you sleep that are essential for overall health, including hormone production and release
  • Sleep is a cycle of Non-REM and REM sleep cycles. The Non-REM cycle starts at the beginning and is 90-110 minutes long. The cycle length varies through the night. Our deep sleep is one of the Non-REM cycles. 
  • Our sleep cycle is regulated by circadian rhythms, which is like an internal clock that signals body processes
  • Circadian rhythms are largely affected by day and night cycles of the sun, but also light and dark inside your house, electronics, temperature, exercise, nutrition,  and many other factors
  • Melatonin is our “sleep” hormone that is released to signal that you are getting ready to go to sleep, along with a slight decrease in body temperature (this is why you may feel cold in the evening!) 
  • Tryptophan, an amino acid, is absorbed from our food and converted into serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is then converted into melatonin through reactions that require magnesium and B5 and B6 vitamins, so nutrition is important in this process! 
  • Sleep needs vary by person, but you can’t change how much sleep your body needs. Some people need a lot less sleep, but if you are someone who needs a lot of sleep to thrive, you can’t “get used to” less sleep than you need. 
  • When you are very active or compete as an athlete, you typically need more sleep than usual to recover adequately, but this can still vary by person


There are so many benefits of getting enough sleep. Here are a few:

  • Improved mental health 
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Improved post-exercise recovery
  • Enhanced cognitive performance
  • Improved mood
  • Decreased car accidents
  • Improved hormone balance
  • Healthier immune system
  • Better pain tolerance
  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Decreased injury risk

Sleep is affected by so many things!

  • Age
    • The older you get, often the less sleep you get because of busy lifestyles, stress, illnesses, medications, and aches and pains
  • Physiological health
    • Sleep disorders, medications, hormones, injuries and underlying overall health can cause you to get less efficient sleep
  • Psychological health
    • Mental stress and anxiety can negatively affect sleep
  • Culture and Society
    • In American culture, lack of sleep is often used as a badge of honor and the need for sleep is often associated with being weak or soft
    • Sleep is not consistently considered an important part of overall health and wellbeing for kids or adults (late practices, games, work schedules, over-scheduling, pressure to do all the things and doing them well)
    • We are constantly rewarded for doing more things in our day and sleep is what often goes by the wayside
    • You often feel like you need to choose between other important activities, (like exercise, spending time with your family, doing fun things with friends, work) and sleep
  • Behaviors
    • Our bedtime habits greatly influence our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep 
    • Sleep patterns often vary hugely from the week to the weekend, which can really cause issues with your circadian rhythm and hormone release
    • Electronic use is at an all time high
    • We are often over-stimulated from the day and may take more time winding down
    • We have a hard time saying no to things 
    • Working at home can often lead to blurry boundaries for stopping work and starting your bedtime routine
  • Environment: 
    • You sleep better in a dark room without electronics
    • Cooler temperatures help you get better sleep: the optimal range for sleeping temperature is 60-68 degrees for adults and closer to 69 for babies temperature
    • Having a safe, comfortable, environment where you can relax is necessary for quality sleep. Many people don’t have a safe place to sleep. 


Here are our top sleep habits that are shown to be helpful!

  • Figure out how much sleep you need to thrive and work on your habits to help you get to your goal
    • Keep a sleep journal with how much sleep you get, how you feel and rank it from 1-10 from barely functioning to thriving in life (whatever that means for you-this can vary by person)
    • Try a sleep tracking app or product like WHOOP
    • Work on daily habits to get to your magic number for hours you need

A few habits that work for a lot of people:

  • Stick with a similar schedule on the weekend and weekdays
  • Set personal boundaries so you can decompress from work, stress or other factors that can keep you up at night
  • Have a healthy bedtime routine
    • Figure out what time you want to go to bed and how long your bedtime routine takes. Decide when you need to start your bedtime routine in order to be asleep when you want to be
    • Turn off electronics a couple of hours before bed
    • Take a warm bath, sit in a hot tub or sauna an hour or so before bed
    • Set your A/C on a schedule so it goes down an hour before bedtime
    • Do something relaxing that is not on a screen (reading, crafts, puzzles, etc.) to unwind before bed
    • Go to bed and wake up at a similar time every day
  • Avoid drinking lots of fluids or eating too close to bedtime
    • If you are waking up in the night to go to the bathroom, you may try getting your fluid in earlier in the day and sip to thirst in the evening
  • Focus on your eating habits
    • avoid distractions while eating dinner
    • include foods that help you feel your best before sleep
    • practice intuitive eating so you are listening to your satisfaction cues and avoiding overeating in the evening
    • Eat mostly whole foods with a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Limit alcohol 
    • Alcohol interferes with deep sleep patterns and can leave you waking up in the night or not feeling rested the next day
  • Decrease caffeine intake later in the day
    • Caffeine can stay in your system for 10 hours, so limiting it after lunch may help you get better sleep
  • Exercise
    • Getting your heart rate up and moving your body is linked to better quality sleep and more deep sleep time 

There are some foods and supplements that may help!

  • Mediterranean Diet Pattern is linked to better sleep
    • Seafood
    • Olive oil
    • Whole grains
    • Legumes, nuts and seeds
    • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole food eating patterns including fruits, vegetables, adequate protein, nuts, seeds and legumes have adequate sources of tryptophan and melatonin are linked to better sleep 
    • Tryptophan Sources
      • Dairy
      • Seafood
      • Whole grain oats and wheat
      • Soy
      • Beans and lentils
      • Nuts and seeds
      • Red meat 
      • Eggs
    • Melatonin Sources
      • Whole grain corn and rice
      • Tomatoes
      • Strawberries
      • Tart cherries
      • Ginger 
      • Almonds
      • Walnuts
    • Serotonin Sources
      • Kiwi
      • Tart Cherries
    • Magnesium Sources
      • Avocado
      • Peanuts
      • Soy milk
      • Almonds
      • Spinach
      • Dairy
      • Bananas
  • Tart Cherry
    • Source of natural melatonin, tryptophan, serotonin and anti-inflammatory compounds 
    • Limited research shows that eating tart cherries can increase melatonin levels and results in modest improvements in sleep with decreases in insomnia and reduction in time awake during sleep 
    • The mechanism and ideal dose of tart cherry still needs to be researched 
    • Tart cherries are safe for most people and come in a pill form, juice or concentrated juice or you can buy frozen or fresh tart cherries
  • Melatonin
    • Hormone produced in the body to stimulate sleep and decrease body temperature preparing for sleep
    • Supplements show promise to improve jet lag and  insomnia with more limited evidence for improving time to fall asleep and sleep efficacy
    • More research is needed to find optimal dose/delivery and safety of long term use. The lowest dose that may be helpful is about 0.3 mg melatonin 
    • Research has found limited serious adverse effects and low dependence with melatonin, so it is relatively safe from what we know now
  • Valerian Root
    • Herb used for its sedative properties
    • Researched benefits are mixed but shows promise in some studies
    • Safety is well established and doses range from 300-600 mg/day
  • Magnesium
    • Can help calm your body down, relax your brain and your muscles
    • Increases neurotransmitter, GABA, which can help decrease anxiety
    • Research shows modest benefits in sleep time and quality
    • Around 300 mg magnesium glycinate is recommended for sleep
    • Safety is well established 


What if nothing seems to work? 

  • Don’t give up! Things can get better
  • Being stressed about sleep can often make it worse 
  • Keep a journal so you have information and can make better decisions
  • Try to relax and focus on what you can control
  • Know that your body and situation are unique and may require trying different things and adjusting as you go
  • Talk to a professional for help, such as your doctor, health coach or dietitian



  1. Sleep is very important for overall health-as much as movement, nourishment and community
  2. Know how much sleep you need and focus on getting your required sleep consistently
  3. Have a healthy bedtime routine to set you up for success-you can start small and focus on one thing at a time. 
  4. Control your environment to get the best sleep. Making changes in your room, your bedding and who you are sleeping with can really impact your sleep. 
  5. Eating healthy, balanced whole food and moving your body every day can make a huge impact. Think about movement you enjoy and whole foods that make you feel good. 
  6. Avoid the quick energy traps of high caffeine, sugary, processed foods. 



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