Why the Trendy Mediterranean Diet Might Be Extra Helpful With Sleep

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Your diet affects what time you go to bed

A long list of cleverly named diets splash across our TVs and phone screens all the time. Many claim to help you lose weight or get you healthy, but did you know your diet also has a say in your sleep? A new study review published on January 17 in Nutrients suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may improve your sleep quality. (1)

Researchers combed through 23 studies on the topic and when all was said and done, they found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with better and longer sleep, with less insomnia or morning sleepiness. (2)

“This study showed that the Mediterranean diet may positively impact brain and central nervous system health and… improve sleep quality,” says Megan Hilbert, registered dietitian. While more research needs to be done on this, Hilbert adds, this is a great review of diet quality and sleep.

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet describes how people eat in countries along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, like Greece, Italy, and southern France.

That means lots of veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, along with a fair amount of fish and poultry, says Menka Gupta, MD, certified functional medicine practitioner from the Institute for Functional Medicine and expert in functional nutrition. “[The Mediterranean diet] has been associated with numerous health benefits, including improved heart health and better mood and sleep quality.”

Aside from sleep, a Mediterranean diet’s health benefits include:

  • Decreased risk for cardiovascular disease
  • Improved blood sugar control in diabetes
  • Slower blood vessel aging
  • Lower risk of some cancers (LINK)3

Some studies even suggest following this diet can lower your chances for osteoporosis, preterm birth, inflammatory bowel disease, eye problems, kidney stones, and depression. Where do we sign up?

How Can a Mediterranean Diet Affect Sleep?

Your eating habits can have an enormous impact on how well you sleep, and it goes the other way, too. (4) Food types, amounts, and combinations along with meal timing can all impact our sleep, says Gupta. 

For example, certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) and minerals like magnesium and potassium are often found in the Mediterranean diet and have all been linked to better sleep quality and a healthier sleep cycle, says Gupta. “The timing of meals also plays a crucial role, with late-night eating potentially disrupting the natural circadian rhythm and negatively impacting sleep quality.”

Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, helps your body know when it’s time to be awake and alert and when it’s time to sleep. (5) And the Mediterranean diet is rich nutrients that help this rhythm, says Gupta:

  • B-vitamins: Help regulate your sleep patterns and circadian rhythm.
  • Magnesium: Calms the nervous system and relaxes your muscles, making it easier to fall asleep and keep to your sleep schedule.
  • Potassium: Aids in muscle relaxation and circulatory health and keeps your sleep patterns uninterrupted.

Gut Health

When your gut (stomach and intestines) is happy, you sleep better. The Mediterranean diet is packed with compounds called “polyphenols” which affect the good bacteria in your gut and may cause better sleep.

“[The] fiber, polyphenols, and short-chain fatty acids [in a Mediterranean diet] all play a vital role in our gut health and impact the gut-brain axis by regulating our circadian rhythm,” says Hilbert.


“The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and vitamins from fruits and vegetables, which can improve sleep by reducing inflammation in the body and supporting the healthy functioning of the nervous system,” says Gupta. 

Good fats like those found in olive oil, fish, and some fruits can also lower your inflammation. The high concentration of these nutrients in the Mediterranean diet keeps brain inflammation down and can even lower your body’s stress response, says Hilbert. 

Brain Messengers

Your brain has a lot to say about your sleep, and it communicates with your body through chemical messengers: hormones and neurotransmitters. (7) What you eat can affect the balance of these messengers, says Gupta. 

For example, tryptophan (yep — the thing in turkey that makes you sleepy) plays a big part in making serotonin, which then goes on to help make melatonin. “Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and its production is influenced by the availability of tryptophan in the brain,” says Gupta.

How To Maximize Your Diet for Your Best Rest

Whew that was a lot of info! So what does that mean for you? It can be tough to start a brand new diet, so if you want to try this one, try making one small change at a time. 

Gupta recommends these Mediterranean nutrients and tells us where to find them:

  • Tryptophan-rich foods: Poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, and tofu 
  • Protein-rich foods: Eggs, fish, and almonds
  • Fiber: Beans, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, and seeds (8)
  • B vitamins: Whole grains, dark leafy vegetables, meat, and dairy products
  • Magnesium: Leafy greens, nuts, beans, and seeds
  • Zinc: Nuts and legumes

Eating high-protein foods low in saturated fats and sugars can help you sleep better. (9) “Diets high in saturated fats, sugar, and low in fiber can lead to lighter and more disrupted sleep patterns,” says Gupta, “[and] saturated fats and sugar can increase the risk of sleep disturbances by affecting the body’s ability to fall and stay asleep.”

In general, it’s best to stay away from heavy meals before bed. You can also get better rest if you lay off caffeine and alcohol intake well before lights-out. (10)

Who knew what you ate could do so much for your snoozing? Adjusting your diet can quickly feel overwhelming, so try not to make too many changes at once. Reach out to a health professional if you need extra tips, and enjoy some better sleep!

  • 1. Godos J, Ferri R, Lanza G, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Sleep Features: A Systematic Review of Current Evidence. Nutrients. 2024;16(2):282. doi:10.3390/nu16020282

  • 2. Mediterranean Diet – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. Accessed January 31, 2024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557733/

  • 3. Finicelli M, Di Salle A, Galderisi U, Peluso G. The Mediterranean Diet: An Update of the Clinical Trials. Nutrients. 2022;14(14):2956. doi:10.3390/nu14142956

  • 4. Scoditti E, Tumolo MR, Garbarino S. Mediterranean Diet on Sleep: A Health Alliance. Nutrients. 2022;14(14):2998. doi:10.3390/nu14142998

  • 5. Circadian Rhythms. Accessed January 6, 2024. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx

  • 6. Rutsch A, Kantsjö JB, Ronchi F. The Gut-Brain Axis: How Microbiota and Host Inflammasome Influence Brain Physiology and Pathology. Frontiers in Immunology. 2020;11. Accessed February 5, 2024. https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/immunology/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.604179

  • 7. 3.1 Neurons, Neurotransmitters, and Hormones – Psychology – 1st Canadian Edition. Accessed February 3, 2024. https://psychology.pressbooks.tru.ca/chapter/3-1-the-neuron-is-the-building-block-of-the-nervous-system/

  • 8. Dominguez LJ, Barbagallo M. Dietary fiber intake and the Mediterranean population. In: The Mediterranean Diet. Elsevier; 2020:257-265. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-818649-7.00023-0

  • 9. Binks H, E. Vincent G, Gupta C, Irwin C, Khalesi S. Effects of Diet on Sleep: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):936. doi:10.3390/nu12040936

  • 10. Iao SI, Jansen E, Shedden K, et al. Associations between bedtime eating or drinking, sleep duration and wake after sleep onset: findings from the American time use survey. British Journal of Nutrition. 2022;127(12):1888-1897. doi:10.1017/S0007114521003597

  • Gupta, Menkam, MD. Author interview. February 2, 2024.

  • Hilbert, Megan, RD. Author interview. February 5, 2024.

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy is an RN of 16 years who has worked with adults and pediatric patients encompassing trauma, orthopedics, home care, transplant, and case management. She has practiced nursing all over the world from San Fransisco, CA to Tharaka, Kenya. Abby loves spending time with her husband, four kids, and their cat named Cat.

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