Jul. 25. 2018
Nutrition Articles
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Sleep isn’t only important for keeping you energized all day, but it also can affect the food choices you make.

We all have those nights — or even weeks — when getting enough or quality sleep seems nearly impossible. A checklist of to-dos, stress, and worry can all lead to sleep problems, including how much shut-eye we get and how deep we sleep. The thing is, sleep is so important to living life to the fullest and overall a healthy lifestyle. While some people might look at it as a luxury, it should really get a top priority on a list of how to live well and healthfully. In addition to helping your body relax and recover from the day, quality zzz’s can also affect the food choices you make the following day.

Because sleep is so important and so strongly linked to diet, it’s an important topic to cover. Today, I’ll explain exactly how rest can influence your diet choices, according to research, plus what to do if you don’t get enough and how to make sure you still eat healthfully.

3 Ways Sleep Problems Can Influence Your Diet

1. Sleep Problems Can Lead To Cravings

According to one study from the University of Arizona, researchers linked poor sleep quality to wanting more junk food (1). In fact, two-thirds of the participants said a lack of sleep led them to reach for unhealthier foods. What makes it more important, is that the researchers actually then linked those junk-food cravings to higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.

Instead of reaching to calorie-laden chips or packaged cookies when you’re tired, reach for these snack recipes.

2. Sleep Problems Can Cause You to Consume Excess Calories

In addition to more junk food cravings, a lack of sleep could also cause you to snack more in general, therefore leading to a higher calorie intake the next day (2). This could be problematic if you’re looking to lose weight by cutting down on calories.

Try eating meals that are packed with protein and fat when you’re tired, so you have more sustained energy throughout the day. A macro bowl will fit the bill—here’s how to make them.

3. Sleep Problems Could Mean You Eat Less Produce

Though this study was done on young adolescents, it’s still important for all people to hear: Researchers found that boys and girls who slept fewer hours also ate fewer fruits and vegetables (3). On the flip side, the lack of zzz’s meant an increased consumption of meat in boys and soft drinks in girls. The boys with shorter shut-eye also ate at irregular hours and tended to overeat (though they didn’t find this to be true in girls).

If you need more vegetables in your day, salads are always a good choice. Try this crunchy cucumber tomato salad for starters.

How to Squeeze in More Sleep

I find that when I set a regular sleep schedule—going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time—every week, it helps me fall asleep faster and get more quality zzz’s. Science backs up the idea that you should stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time to regulate your circadian rhythm and get some deep rest (4).

Also, making your bedroom a relaxing sleep sanctuary can help. Dim the lights, leave the TV (and your phone!) off, and diffuse some essential oils that give off a calming scent, like lavender. You could also listen to a guided sleep meditation before you close your eyes, to help you relax a bit more. I find, if I’m thinking about all my to-dos or stressors, it’s a good idea to write everything down before going to bed. That way I have a list to look back on, but don’t have to dwell on it before bed.

Tricks to Eat Better after a Bad Night of Sleep

Simply being aware of the fact that sleep can lead to poor food choices might help you second guess reaching for fried foods or bigger portions. Drinking more water and staying hydrated will also help curb hunger that could lead to reaching for extra snacks and not-so-nourishing foods.

Of course, there’s always room for indulgences and foods you love, just consider why you’re reaching for sweets or continuously munching to help you figure out if you’re actually hungry or just eating to try to boost energy. It will actually be more beneficial if you opt for nutrient-rich and filling foods for a pick-me-up, rather than things like tons of coffee (which could lead to a crash) or potato chips.

When I don’t get enough sleep at night, I prefer a nourishing breakfast, like a smoothie. I also have a few go-to recipes for energizing snacks. Here are some of my favorites:

Nutrition Stripped Energy Mix
Tidal Wave Green Smoothie
Spirulina Energy Globes
Matcha Tea Latte

Another note: Research actually shows that the foods you eat during the day can affect how you sleep at night. In particular, the Mediterranean diet was shown to improve sleep (5).

Sleep Problems and Diet: The Takeaway

Getting poor sleep every once in a while is pretty unavoidable, so don’t get down on yourself if it happens. Simply commit to aiming for that seven to eight hours every night, and doing your best to get to bed early, without distractions before hitting the pillow. If you chronically can’t sleep and it’s affecting your daily life, it might be time to talk to your doctor about it, to see if there’s an underlying problem.

Also, it’s OK to snack and reach for foods that make you feel good after not sleeping well, even if that means they’re sugar-filled or calorie-laden. You just want to make sure you’re conscious of your diet decisions and making choices that will nourish your body and help you feel energized, mentally and physically.

Let’s Chat!

Do you have any tricks for getting more sleep? Do you notice a difference in your diet the day after a poor night of sleep? Let’s discuss! I want to hear about your tricks and triumphs below, or share on social media using #nutritionstripped.


  1. University of Arizona Health Sciences. (2018, June.) Sleep loss linked to nighttime snacking, junk food cravings, obesity, diabetes.
  2. Jean-PhilippeChaput. (2014, July.) Sleep patterns, diet quality and energy balance.
  3. Fabiloga Tatone-Takuda, Lise Dubois, Timothy Ramsay, Manon Girard, Evelyne Touchette, Dominique Petit, Jacques Y. Montplaisir. (2011, December). Sex differences in the association between sleep duration, diet and body mass index: a birth cohort study.