What to eat to help you sleep

flat lay of Mediterranean food

There is a growing swathe of science which shows that a healthy Mediterranean-based diet can help improve your sleep. That’s because not only is the Mediterranean diet packed with nutrients which help keep your body and brain happy but is a great way to feed the friendly bacteria in your gut – and studies now show they have a positive impact on sleep quality too.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The traditional Mediterranean diet involves consuming lots of olive oil, nuts, oily fish, fruit, veg and wholegrains. It also includes reasonable amounts of full-fat yoghurt and cheese, as well as a glass or two of red wine with your evening meal, but it doesn’t leave much room for cakes, biscuits or highly processed food. You can read more about it here.

Why is the Mediterranean diet good for your health?

Studies show this way of eating can cut your risk of heart attack or stroke, of developing type 2 diabetes and getting breast cancer1. But it can also aid sleep. People who follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet tend to sleep longer and better than those eating a more typical Western diet2 3 4.

When you look at the results of eating studies, it can be difficult to separate the impact of diet from other possible contributing factors, but a very good study by Cornel University in New York5 closely monitored people in a sleep laboratory. They found the study participants had lighter, more disrupted sleep when they ate a ‘junk food’ diet of saturated fat, carbohydrates and sugar, but they slept much better when they ate meals rich in protein and fibre (typical of the Mediterranean diet).

Although it is difficult to explain precisely why the Mediterranean diet aids sleep, one reason could be that foods such as olive oil, oily fish, legumes and vegetables are known to contain anti-inflammatory compounds as well as antioxidants which help to reduce oxidative stress.

You’ll find delicious recipes and a lot more support to help implement a healthy low-carb Mediterranean lifestyle at www.thefast800.com.

5 key nutritious foods to boost the Mediterranean sleep-boosting factors in your diet:

  • Olive oil
  • Oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Legumes (beans, pulses and lentils)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts

Happy gut bacteria aid restful sleep

Scientists now know that the trillions of microbes which live in our gut play a part in boosting our mental and physical health, and studies show a healthy population of ‘good’ gut bacteria is conducive to good sleep6.

A Mediterranean diet is a great way to help boost levels of the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut. Fibre-rich foods feed the trillions of ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut, which in turn produce chemicals that have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Since one of the main reasons people stay awake at night is because they are ruminating and fretting, anything that improves mood is likely to be good for sleep.

For optimum health we all need a large and diverse population of different forms of gut bacteria and the more diverse your microbiome, the better your sleep quality is likely to be (in terms of quality, longer total sleep time, sleep efficiency and less night-time waking).

The top two ways to super-charge your gut bacteria:

  1. Eat probiotics – this is the live bacteria or yeast that you parachute into your intestine to enrich your microbiome. You’ll find probiotics in live yoghurt, cheese and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi). Try our homemade kimchi recipe on The Fast 800 website.
  2. Prebiotics – this is the non-digestible plant fibre that acts like fertiliser to encourage the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut. Best sources are beans and lentils, onions, leeks and garlic, wholegrains, oats, flaxseeds, fruit and seaweed.

  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1200303
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30137563
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31035395
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6231522/
  5. http://jcsm.aasm.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30412
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31589627

If you’re having trouble falling and staying Fast Asleep, you may benefit from an evidence-based diet and lifestyle approach like The Fast 800 programme. Co-founded by Dr Michael Mosley, The Fast 800 online programme is designed to help members lose weight and regain their health with food, exercise and mindfulness guidance based on science. Poor-quality sleep is common among those who are overweight, and many of The Fast 800 online programme members report an improvement in their sleep and mood while following the programme. Learn more.