Why am I not sleeping well?

Your diet may play a critical role in how well you’re sleeping at night, says new research.

The scientists, from Columbia University and St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, found that a healthy high-fiber, low-saturated-fat, low-sugar diet like the Pritikin Eating Plan led to a good night’s sleep. Conversely, a poor diet led to poor sleep.

If your not sleeping well, you diet may be the problem.

"Why am I not sleeping well at night?" According to new research, it may have a lot to do with what you're eating during the day.

Why am I not sleeping well?

The study’s1 lead author, Dr. Marie-Pierre St. Onge of Columbia University, succinctly summed up her team’s findings: “Diet quality influenced sleep quality.”

“It was most surprising,” adds Dr. St. Onge, “that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”

Study details

For five days and nights, the scientists closely monitored the sleep experiences and diets of 26 men and women, ages 30 to 45. All were in good health and had normal sleep histories.

The researchers compared the participants’ sleep patterns after eating two different diets:

  • A healthy diet full of fiber-rich, low-fat, low-sugar carbohydrates (whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains)
  • A poor-quality diet that was higher in saturated fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates like white flour, and lower in fiber

Faster sleep | Deeper sleep

The investigation showed that when participants ate the healthy diet, even for one day, they fell asleep almost twice as fast and spent more of the night in deep, slow-wave sleep.

Diet and Sleep Problems

When the study’s subjects spent the day consuming a poor-quality diet, they spent less time at night in deep sleep, and they suffered more disruptions in their sleep.


By contrast, when they consumed more saturated fat, they spent less time in deep sleep. And when they ate more sugar and refined carbohydrates like white bread, they experienced more disruptions of their sleep.

Simply put, eat poorly, sleep poorly.

Poor sleep and weight gain

This study makes an important contribution to earlier studies on the link between poor sleep quality and diet. Some of this research2 demonstrated strong associations between inadequate sleep and obesity.

Clinical studies have also shown that sleep restriction leads to increased intake of calorie-dense snacks3 and other calorie-dense foods, as well as weight gain.4

Vicious cycle

The addition of this new study reveals the possibility of a vicious cycle: The unhealthy diet you crave after a poor night’s sleep only serves to promote another night of poor sleep.

Poor sleep and cardiovascular disease

Poor sleep has been linked not only to weight gain but also to serious health conditions. We are seeing, points out Dr. St. Onge, “the increasing recognition of the role of [poor] sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Nathaniel Watson, President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, accentuates the positive, recognizing that “this study emphasizes the fact that diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle.”

Why am I not sleeping well? | Bottom Line

In recent years, sleep researchers have targeted several causes of poor sleep, including stress, various medications, and sleep disrupters like taking our phones to bed with us, as well as major health concerns like sleep apnea.

The same Pritikin diet, along with regular exercise, that has been shown to fight epidemic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension also appears to promote good sleep patterns to assist in the fight.

A good night’s sleep is likely also dependent on a healthy diet, the research described in this article affirms.

And, certainly, a good night’s sleep is yet one more reason to adopt a healthy, Pritikin-style diet.

Or, as Pritikin’s Medical Director Seth Marquit, MD, often says in his classes to guests at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami: “All roads lead to Pritikin.” The same Pritikin diet, along with regular exercise, that has been shown to fight epidemic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension also appears to promote good sleep patterns to assist in the fight.

The vicious poor diet/poor sleep cycle, in short, can be transformed into the perfect circle: Eat well to sleep well to eat and sleep well again. “Repeat these mutually supportive steps, and we will very likely live well,” encourages Dr. Marquit.

“Remember, too, that a good night’s sleep should not be a guilty pleasure. Sleep and the diet that promotes it are what you need to take good care of yourself.”

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