Eating More Plant-Based Foods Might Affect Your Sleep, But Here's What It Depends On

by Julia Guerra

Any time you drastically change the way you eat, you're more than likely to see changes in your body. This could be for better or for worse, but you won't really know how more or less of a specific food group will affect both your physical and mental state unless you give it a try. Take veganism, for example. Those who follow a plant-based diet generally have more energy and feel alert throughout the day, but do vegans sleep better than the average meat-eater?

According to my research, it's kind of a toss-up. It's absolutely true that the foods we put into our bodies throughout the day can positively or negatively affect how we sleep at night. Those who follow plant-based diets are more likely to get a good night's sleep because their meals are typically made up of vegetables, legumes, and soy products, which are all generally easier to digest than animal meat. But there's a little more to it than that.

There's no overlooking the countless benefits a plant-based lifestyle can bestow on your body. But the truth is, subtracting animal products entirely makes it harder (not impossible) to fill in some dietary gaps. Whether or not vegans sleep better, though, depends on a few different factors.

For starters, avoiding protein consumption in the evening can improve your sleep cycle.

Protein takes a lot out of your digestive system, especially when it comes from animal products. Because protein takes longer (and more energy) to digest, eating a dinner high in protein can actually prevent you from getting a good night's sleep.

This may give plant-based eaters a one-up on omnivores, but even plant-based protein sources like tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils can make snoozing a struggle. While these food items are much easier to break down than animal meats, protein in general slows down serotonin production, making it harder to fall asleep.

That said, it's important to account for calcium.

Vegan diets (and some strict vegetarian diets) omit dairy products from their regimen altogether. It's true that a lot of people suffer from lactose intolerance, but while herbivores bypass potential health issues such as cramping, bloating, and gas, they also lose out on a significant source of calcium.

Despite the gruesome damage dairy can do on your body, calcium actually calms your nervous system. The mineral converts essential amino acids to serotonin, which supports the natural sleep cycle.

Of course, there are still ways for plant-based eaters to meet the recommended daily amount of calcium (which is about 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day for adults) that don't involve cow's milk. Some options include leafy greens, almonds, sesame seeds, and oral supplements.

Vitamin B6 and other essential minerals can also contribute to a better night's sleep.

If you couldn't already tell, micronutrients are the key to a goodnight's sleep, and you can find an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals in whole foods like fruits and veggies.

Earthy goods like avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, nut butters, and more are packed with vitamin B6, tryptophan, and magnesium, all of which contribute to a deep, full night's rest.

Complex carbs and starches are great for your shut-eye, too.

Personally, I don't believe in categorizing food as "good" or "bad." However, gravitating toward complex over simple carbs in the evening is sure to improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep.

One Green Planet reports that eating complex carbs, such as a bowl of oatmeal, “naturally causes your blood sugar levels to rise,” increasing insulin production and releasing sleepy brain chemicals. The key is to figure out how long it takes you to feel sleepy after consuming complex carbs, and plan your meals accordingly.

Other complex carbs on the evening to-eat list are whole grain pastas, potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa.

So, do vegans actually sleep better than omnivores? Not necessarily, but there's definitely an advantage to eating this and not that.