Is Poor Nutrition Keeping You Up at Night? What You Need to Know About Diet and Sleep

Most of us know what sleep deprivation feels like, and it is not pleasant. If we do not get enough healthy sleep (some children need 10 hours nightly, while most adults need at least seven), we may be left feeling irritable and disoriented. It can also be dangerous to be sleep deprived.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who usually sleep for less than five hours daily, have slept for less than seven hours in the past 24 hours or have slept for one or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours have significantly elevated crash rates.

“The estimated rate ratio for crash involvement associated with driving after only 4-5 hours of sleep compared with 7 hours or more is similar to the U.S. government’s estimates of the risk associated with driving with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or slightly above the legal limit for alcohol in the U.S,” reports AAA.

You read that right. Driving sleepy may share similar risks to drunk driving.

And while some of us do not get enough sleep because we go to bed too late or work through the night, there are also millions of Americans who have trouble sleeping due to disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “[p]ersons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”

The obvious solution is to get more sleep, but, of course, that is much easier said than done.

You could try to get more sleep perhaps by scheduling an evening cut-off time for phones and other technology, meditating or taking a hot bath.

But it’s my opinion that nutrition plays a huge role in ensuring that you get adequate sleep.   

Make sure you get enough iron in your diet.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), deficiencies in the mineral iron may be related to restless leg syndrome, a cramping in the legs that causes an irresistible urge to move them. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas and iron-fortified cereals. The NIH also says B vitamins may help with nocturnal leg cramps.

Make sure you get enough vitamin D in your diet.

The NIH found that people with lower vitamin D serum levels had more sleep disturbances. They also found evidence of this when examining mice. “In animal studies, vitamin D receptors have been found in specific regions of the central nervous system, some of which regulate sleep…” reports NIH. To find out how much vitamin D you need and what foods are rich in this vitamin, click here.

Make sure you get enough magnesium in your diet.

The NIH conducted a study with elderly people and found that magnesium supplementation helped with sleep onset and insomnia. This makes sense considering magnesium is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.

Make sure you get enough calcium in your diet.

As a child, did your parents ever try to get you to sleep by giving you a glass of warm milk? If they did, they most likely did this to calm you down. But several studies show calcium is directly related to our sleep cycles. Calcium causes the release of melatonin, which explains why this mineral is not only important for strong bones and teeth but also for preventing insomnia and helping people get healthy sleep. For foods rich in calcium, click here.

Eat more kiwis.

A study published by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) revealed that eating kiwis before bedtime may help people who have trouble sleeping or have actual sleep disorders. The study examined males and females between the ages of 20 to 55. The subjects consumed two kiwis one hour before bedtime for four weeks. The results revealed the subjects fell asleep quicker, had longer sleep durations and had better quality sleep. “Numerous studies have revealed that kiwifruit contains many medicinally useful compounds, among which antioxidants and serotonin may be beneficial in the treatment of the sleep disorders,” reports the NIH.

Eat more cherries.

Cherries, especially tart cherries, contain melatonin. Melatonin is a “sleep hormone” your body naturally produces. It is inactive during the day and starts to kick in after the sun goes down, around 9pm according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you have trouble sleeping and take melatonin supplements, taking a shot of natural cherry juice at night may be a good alternative. Melatonin may help reset your sleep and wake cycles, which can also aid in alleviating jet lag.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity and sleep problems go hand-in-hand. According to the National Sleep Foundation,  “[a]n estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder that leads individuals to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep. Not only does sleep apnea seriously affect one’s quality of sleep, but it can also lead to health risks such as stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure and excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is often associated with people who are overweight – weight gain leads to compromised respiratory function when an individual’s trunk and neck area increase from weight gain.”  

Along with exercising and making sure to maintain a healthy diet, there are certain minerals you may want to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of. Magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc are all associated with weight management.

As humans, our bodies can do amazing things. Sometimes we push our limits and overexert ourselves. We have to accept that sleep is a vital piece to the puzzle of being proactive about our health. And just like with most things related to our health, eating healthy foods and getting adequate vitamins and minerals are intertwined.

Healthy food is medicine!

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.