Eating for Better Sleep

Nutrition Advice from Your Pawling Hannaford Dietitian

A good night’s sleep is essential for many reasons from the apparent (it restores us) to the complex (it helps prevent chronic disease). Indeed, something as simple as sleep is about way more than being cozy under the covers. It’s about preventing chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

Sleep and Obesity

Poor sleep or not getting enough sleep is associated with obesity. When we are tired, we are more likely to make poor eating choices, overeat in attempt to improve energy, and less likely to add exercise into our day. The Nurses Health Study (one of our largest studies) tracked 60,000 women over 16 years and found that women who slept less than 5 hours per night had a 30% greater chance of gaining 30 pounds over the course of the study when compared to women who slept at least 7 hours per night. It’s important to remember that this can include interrupted sleep due to sleep apnea and other conditions that limit the number of restful hours of sleep we get.

Adequate sleep is just as important for children as it is for adults. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, which tracked children from birth to age 15 found that later bedtimes (after 9:00 p.m.) were associated with greater risk of obesity in children. Investigators found, for example, that 4-year old children who went to bed by 8 rather than 9 cut their risk of being obese in half. These significant results highlight an easily modifiable lifestyle factor that we should consider to help our youth maintain an ideal body weight.

Type 2 Diabetes

Persistent lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. When we sleep less, our body secretes less insulin (the hormone that regulates sugar) following meals. Additionally, our body releases the stress hormone cortisol when we are tired and trying stay awake. Cortisol makes it harder for insulin to do its job. The result can be more sugar circulating in the body and consequently higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It’s also common for us to crave sugar and carbohydrates when we are fatigued, which makes this potential even greater.


Many studies have established a strong link between depression and sleep. While we may easily understand that depression and anxiety can cause disrupted sleep, it’s also important to recognize that when we don’t get adequate sleep, we are increasing our risk of developing depression. This relationship underscores the need to address sleep disorders and improve sleep quality before an individual develops physiological condition too.

Seek these nutrients and the foods that contain them to improve sleep:

Potassium: avocados, white beans, Swiss chard, watermelon

Magnesium: nuts, legumes, some fatty fish, tofu

Tryptophan*: meat, poultry, milk, spinach

Melatonin: eggs, fish, nuts, grains

Heart Healthy Fats: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil

*When metabolized, tryptophan increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is aligned with better sleep.

As your local Hannaford Dietitian, I’m pleased to be sharing my advice and simple tips. Please visit online for my in-store schedule of classes, demonstrations, and store tours, or call (845) 855-0553 for more information. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AllisonStowell) or Instagram (@AllisonJStowell).


Couscous & Cherry Salad (2 Guiding Stars)

This flavorful, make-ahead salad is rich in nutrients that promote better sleep. For more recipes and information on the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program please visit online.


1 2/3 c. water

1 1/3 c. whole-wheat pearl couscous

1/4 c. orange juice

2 T. olive oil

1 T. red wine vinegar

2/3 c. unsweetened dried cherries

2 stalks celery, finely diced

3 oz. baby arugula, finely chopped

1/2 c. walnuts, lightly toasted

3 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 oz. gouda, shredded


Bring the water to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover and turn down to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Add the dried cherries and microwave for 2 minutes on high. Let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Drain and reserve the liquid. Whisk to make sure it’s fully emulsified. Stir liquid into the couscous.

Stir in the steeped cherries, celery, arugula, walnuts and sliced shallots. Top with cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.