In the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics review, authors speculate that it could be because plant-based diets support the production of serotonin and melatonin—two hormones that are essential in the sleep-wake cycle. The gut-brain connection could also be at play. There’s some fascinating emerging research to show that the microbes in our gut can affect certain sleep measures. Those who follow diets high in probiotics, fiber, clean protein, and healthy fats typically have a richer gut microbiome.
On the other side of the coin, diets that are high in refined carbs, sugars, and processed foods have been associated with weight gain. “Excess weight, in turn, can lead to poor sleep quality” and up your risk for sleep problems, the authors share in the report.
While they note that longer-term and more rigorous studies (especially including more women, who tend to report greater sleep disturbances than men) are needed to reinforce these findings, it seems that when it comes to rest, a minimally processed, plant-forward but protein-rich diet pattern a la Mediterranean diet is best.
Registered dietitian and nutrition scientist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, shares this additional insight: “This robust research review provides useful nutrition intel for good sleep. In addition to the mechanisms the authors propose, I think it’s interesting and particularly noteworthy. that high fiber foods like whole grains and legumes, as well as the Mediterranean diet, are rich sources of magnesium—an essential and majorly underconsumed mineral that happens to also promote sleep.”*