Can going vegan or vegetarian impact your sleep?

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Qualified Life Coach
@MariannaKilburn
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02 January 2019

Do vegans and vegetarians sleep better?

In the past few years, veganism and vegetarianism have made the move from being fringe lifestyles to being far more mainstream, with veganism in particular experiencing a 360% increase in followers within the last 10 years alone.1 These types of lifestyles are now congratulated within society and praised for being kinder to animals, kinder to the environment and kinder to your own health.

As of writing this article, we are now in the midst of Veganuary, a time where for one month non-vegans can participate in the vegan lifestyle and get a taste of what’s involved and, while there’s little doubt that going vegan or vegetarian can affect many different areas throughout your body, is it true that it can also affect your sleep patterns? Answering this question can be tricky as whether this impact is good or bad can vary which is why I am going to examine both the pros and cons to reach my overall verdict. 

Pro #1 – Plant-based food can be easier to digest

One of the main reasons that sleep can get interrupted at night is because your digestive system is overtaxed and struggling to breakdown protein-rich foods like meat. Plant-based foods, conversely, are far easier for your digestive system to process which means that you’re less likely to be disturbed by bloating, constipation or a sudden urge to rush to the toilet. In fact, when done properly, a vegan or vegetarian diet contains abundant amounts fibrous fruit, veg and pulses which means that your bowels are more likely to work regularly, reducing the risk of constipation! This healthy intake of fibre also helps to keep your blood glucose levels balanced, a big benefit when it comes to getting a good night of sleep!

Con #1 – Sugar isn’t a meat-based food

If you’re thinking of going vegan or vegetarian then it probably comes as a relief to know that you can still satisfy your sweet tooth, however, as I discuss in my blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’ refined sugar can be the archenemy of healthy sleep patterns. On a basic level, there’s nothing about a slice of double chocolate vegan cake that makes it any healthier than the non-vegan alternative – you’re still getting the same amount of sugar which means that your blood glucose levels are still going to take a hit. 

This can be a real problem as once your blood glucose levels go up they inevitably have to come back down again which can result in even more cravings and may actually disrupt your sleep, making it more difficult for you nod off and dragging you into a lighter sleep phase once you are asleep! Plus, sugary foods tend to be more pro-inflammatory2, which can be a big problem! That’s why it’s important to remember that vegan junk food is still just that – junk food!

Pro #2 – Lower levels of inflammation

Has your sleep ever been interrupted by a sudden flare of joint pain or period cramps? Inflammation has a lot to answer for and can play a role in everything from upsetting your digestive system, to irritating your skin, to causing an arthritic flare-up. That’s why it’s important to take steps to combat inflammation and, as our Nutritionist Emma has discussed, your diet is a crucial weapon in your arsenal. A diet that contains large amounts of processed foods or meat is going to be more pro-inflammatory  which is why veganism and vegetarianism have an edge as these diets cut out meat and focus on more anti-inflammatory fruits and veg!

Con #2 – More susceptible to deficiencies 

Nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12 and calcium are crucial when it comes to maintaining your overall health and wellbeing and deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals are more than capable of negatively affecting your sleep patterns. Unfortunately, these nutrients are mainly found in abundance in animal-derived foods which means that vegans and vegetarians can easily become susceptible to deficiencies. That’s why, as Emma discusses in her blog, ‘How should you approach going vegan?’ it’s extremely important that you do your research first and find plant-based foods that contain the nutrients you need or be prepared to take supplements to prevent yourself from going deficient. 

Pro #3 – Vegans and vegetarians are more health conscious

In general, compared to many meat-eaters, vegans and vegetarians tend to be more aware of health-related issues and invest more time in enhancing their own physical and mental wellbeing. This awareness and conscious approach towards health means that vegans and vegetarians may be more prepared to tackle sleep problems such as insomnia and deprivation and may be more interested in improving their quality of sleep overall. It’s also worth noting that, when done properly, a vegan or vegetarian diet contains plenty of sleep-promoting nutrients such as magnesium and potassium which can promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. 

Con #3 – When you get it wrong, you can get it WRONG….

Switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet definitely isn’t a decision that should be made on whim. In order to get it right you really need to invest the time and effort into researching how you are going to get the nutrients you need and what types of supplements you should be taking. 

Unfortunately, not everyone puts this type of effort in which not only means they’re going to experience all of the pitfalls I’ve just mentioned, it can also have further ramifications for their health and sleep patterns further down the line. Even more experienced vegans can struggle at times but if you’re new to the lifestyle you could find yourself being assaulted by a combination of cravings, low energy levels, mood swings and deficiencies if you don’t do it properly!

My verdict…

So can going vegan or vegetarian impact your diet? The answer is definitely yes but unfortunately the type of affect vegan or vegetarianism has on your sleep patterns depends on how you approach the lifestyle. As I’ve mentioned, veganism can be associated with a range of health benefits that could potentially improve your sleep but only if you get it right. 

The main problem with events like Veganuary is that many participants treat giving up meat and dairy like ‘Dry January’ or giving up chocolate for a month. However, with Veganuary you’re not just giving up one type of food but an entire food group which means the ramifications can be far wider than simply craving a bar of Dairy Milk. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, these negative ramifications can definitely upset your sleep patterns. 

My advice? If you don’t want your new diet to reflect poorly on your sleep patterns, make sure you do the research. Emma and I have written numerous blogs about what can go wrong when nutritional deficiencies strike so you need to be prepared to work around this and to know that just because you’re going vegan, doesn’t immediately mean you’re ascending to an inherently healthy way of life. Be aware of the myths and the facts and make sure you’re ready!

Want to learn more about veganism and nutritional deficiencies that could affect your sleep patterns? Please take a look at some of the blogs below!

Is magnesium a miracle mineral for sleep?

5 nutritional deficiencies that could be keeping you up at night!

Struggling to stay awake? You could be low in vitamin B12!

What nutrients should you be focusing on if you’re vegan?

6 vegan myths debunked!

1https://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/number-of-vegans-in-britain-rises-by-360-in-10-years/

2http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/48/4/715

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