Can nutrition help you sleep better?

Pink silk sleeping mask with eyelashes printed on it rests on white bed sheet for article about a diet to help you sleep better

If you struggle to get good sleep, you’re not alone. About 1 in 5 adults (22%) report a common sleep condition, such as insomnia, sleep apnoea or restless legs, and many more would admit to not feeling well rested by the morning.

A good night’s sleep is essential to helping our bodies recharge and feel energised to tackle the day ahead. So, when we don’t get it, it can leave us feeling sluggish, moody, and maybe a little ‘hangry.’

We all know about the importance of following a regular sleep routine, reducing screen time, and engaging in wind down activities, like reading, stretching or meditation, to promote good sleep. But did you know that nutrition also plays an important role?  

Diet and sleep are interrelated

Research suggests that when we have poor sleep, we are more likely to reach for energy dense foods (i.e., foods higher in added sugars and fats), which often make us feel worse. This can lead to a negative pattern of feeling tired, choosing unhealthy foods, and so on.

In contrast, following a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and alternatives, dairy, and good quality unsaturated fats (e.g., nuts, fatty fish, avocado, olive oil), can help promote good sleep, leading to feeling great the next day and encouraging us to make healthy choices again.

Woman wearing sleep mask sleeps soundly in bed

What does ‘good quality sleep’ mean?

When we sleep, we move through 4 different sleep phases. These are categorised under either rapid eye movement (REM) or non-REM (NREM) sleep.

NREM sleep has 3 stages:

Stage 1 – This is the transition between wakefulness and sleep. You might experience muscle twitches as your heartbeat, eye movements, brain waves and breathing begin to slow down.

Stage 2 – You are asleep. Your heartbeat, breathing, eye movement, brain waves and muscle activity continue to slow, and you may experience a drop in body temperature.

Stage 3 – You’re in a deep sleep. Your body releases growth hormone during this stage and carries out tissue, muscle, and bone repair.   

REM sleep is the 4th stage of sleep, when our brain is the most active and dreaming occurs. Most of your REM sleep takes places in the second half of the night.

The 4 stages of a sleep cycle, image provided by Sleep Foundation

Image courtesy of the Sleep Foundation

We experience all 4 phases of sleep in a single sleep cycle, which starts over every 90-120 minutes. We usually go through 4-6 sleep cycles per night.  

Therefore, “good quality sleep” is that which includes multiple sleep cycles linked together and several hours of continuous rest.

Is your gut keeping you up?

If you’re struggling to get good quality sleep, it might be time to examine what you’re eating before bedtime and when.  

One of the most common mistakes we can make is eating too much before bed. Overindulging can make it uncomfortable to lay down and drift off to sleep.

Conversely, going to bed on an empty stomach and feeling hungry is not going to promote good sleep either.

Reflux can be an issue for some people and interfere with sleep, with symptoms made worse by consuming spicy or acidic foods before bed.

Caffeine can also inhibit sleep, along with alcohol. A glass of wine or a night cap might help you drift off initially, but can affect the REM phase of sleep and, therefore, the overall quality of your sleep.  

Woman sits on the edge of her bed with face in hands while husband is asleep in bed

5 nutrition tips to bring on the ZZZs

Armed with all this knowledge, there are small changes you can make to your diet to sleep better and feel recharged the next day.

  • Follow a healthy diet rich in fruits, veggies, wholegrains, lean meats and alternatives, dairy, and unsaturated fats to feel energetic throughout the day and ready for bed at night.
  • Eat dinner 2-3 hours before bed to give your tummy time to digest before laying down. Eat until full, not stuffed, to avoid any discomfort afterwards.
  • If you suffer from reflux, avoid spicy or acidic foods (i.e., tomato sauce or fizzy drinks) at dinnertime.
  • Avoid caffeine at least 4 hours before bed (or even longer if you are sensitive to caffeine).
  • Skip or limit alcohol consumption at dinner. Choose water instead to hydrate your body and prepare it for a nice long sleep.

How much sleep should you be getting?

For more sleep tips, check out these resources:

How to sleep when you’re feeling stressed
Why sleep is a valuable part of children’s wellbeing
Creating healthy teen sleep habits: A guide for parents of teenagers


  1. American Heart Association. What is Good Sleep and How Much Do I Need? Updated January 12, 2024. Accessed March 15, 2024.  
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Could What We Eat Improve Our Sleep? Updated March 9, 2021. Accessed March 15, 2024.
  3. The Sleep Foundation. Caffeine, Food, Alcohol, Smoking and Sleep. December 8, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2024.
  4. The Sleep Foundation. REM Sleep Revealed: Enhance Your Sleep Quality. December 8, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2024.
  5. The Sleep Foundation. What is NREM Sleep? Updated November 8, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2024.
  6. 10,000 Steps. Tips to Improve Your Sleep. Accessed March 15, 2024.


Content developed by Health and Wellbeing Queensland’s team of expert nutritionists, dietitians, and exercise physiologists.