The One Thing You Can Eat for a Good Night’s Sleep

And the one thing you should avoid.

Photo by Jo-Ann Richards/Getty Images

If you’re trying to avoid tossing and turning at night, you’ve probably already heard the typical advice—cut off screens in the evening, avoid caffeine, and keep the room dark. But a small new study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers some advice about what to eat for better Zzs, too—foods high in fiber and low in saturated fat were linked with better sleep quality.

The study, led by a professor from Columbia University Medical Center, studied 26 adults, looking at their sleep patterns over the course of five nights. While they were observed for nine hours at a time, participants averaged about seven and a half hours of sleep per evening. For three days, researchers controlled their diets, and then studied their sleep on the third night. After that, the participants were allowed to choose their own meals for a day—the researchers studied their sleep patterns that night, as well.

When a nutritionist provided healthy meals that were low in saturated fat and high in protein, the participants were able to fall asleep within 17 minutes. When participants chose their own foods, it took them almost 30 minutes to fall asleep—nearly twice as long. Sugary snacks, low-fiber foods, and foods high in saturated fat all led to “less restorative” sleep, with people waking up more often. Given that nutritionist meals were administered for three days, and “free” food days were only permitted for one day, the researchers concluded that a single day of poor food choices affects sleep quality. The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

"This study emphasizes the fact that diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle," American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Nathaniel Watson, said in a statement. "For optimal health it is important to make lifestyle choices that promote healthy sleep, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly."