Matthew Walker Diet: The Science of Sleep

Who is Matthew Walker?

Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist and sleep expert with over 20 years of experience in the field. He is currently a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.

Walker received his undergraduate education at Oxford University and completed his PhD in neurophysiology at University College London. He then went on to hold postdoctoral research positions at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley.

Throughout his career, Walker has conducted extensive research on sleep, with a focus on the neural and cognitive mechanisms that underlie sleep, its role in memory consolidation, and the impact of sleep loss and sleep disorders on the brain and the body. He has published numerous scientific articles and research papers in peer-reviewed journals, as well as several popular science books, including "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams," which has become a bestseller.

He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society of Biology, and the Royal Society of Medicine. He is also a Member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the Association for Psychological Science

In his best selling book "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams." Walker emphasizes the importance of sleep for overall health and well-being. He also highlights the impact that diet can have on sleep quality.

According to Walker, certain foods and nutrients can help improve sleep, while others can interfere with it. For example, he suggests that eating a diet rich in magnesium and calcium can help promote restful sleep, as these minerals are known to relax muscles and calm the nervous system. Additionally, Walker notes that consuming foods high in tryptophan, such as turkey and cheese, can help increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.

Matthew Walker recommends 3 nutrients for better sleep:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Tryptophan

Why Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a vital role in many bodily functions, including sleep. It works by regulating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, which is known to promote relaxation and calmness.

Low levels of magnesium can lead to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. When magnesium levels are sufficient, it helps to calm the nervous system, relax muscles, and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, all of which can improve sleep quality.

Magnesium also helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm, the internal "clock" that controls the sleep-wake cycle. It does this by influencing the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. When magnesium levels are adequate, the body produces more melatonin, which can help to promote deeper and more restful sleep.

How does Calcium help?

Calcium is a mineral that is essential for many bodily functions, including sleep. It works by regulating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and melatonin, which are known to promote relaxation and regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Calcium is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system, which is responsible for controlling the body's sleep patterns. When calcium levels are sufficient, it can help to promote relaxation, reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, and improve overall sleep quality.

Calcium also helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm, the internal "clock" that controls the sleep-wake cycle. It does this by influencing the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. When calcium levels are adequate, the body produces more melatonin, which can help to promote deeper and more restful sleep.

Why does Walker suggest tryptophan?

Matthew Walker recommends tryptophan as a way to improve sleep quality. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays a key role in the production of serotonin and melatonin, two neurotransmitters that regulate sleep.

Tryptophan is converted in the body to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is then converted to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood, anxiety, and sleep. Serotonin levels are naturally lower at night, which can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Melatonin is also produced from serotonin, which is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When melatonin levels are sufficient, it can help to promote deeper and more restful sleep. By consuming food high in tryptophan, the body is able to increase the production of serotonin and melatonin, which can help to improve sleep quality.

Foods that are rich in tryptophan include dairy products, nuts, seeds, and particularly turkey, chicken and cheese. It is important to note that consuming tryptophan alone is not enough to improve sleep, since it is not able to cross the blood-brain barrier alone, it needs the help of other amino acids such as carbohydrate, to be able to enter the brain.

What is the relationship between quality sleep and brain health?

Walker explains that during sleep, the brain goes through a number of processes that are essential for maintaining cognitive function. One of the most important of these is memory consolidation, which is the process by which information that was learned during the day is transferred from short-term to long-term memory. Sleep also helps to clear out toxins and waste products that can accumulate in the brain during wakefulness, which is important for maintaining the health of brain cells.


Walker also stresses that sleep plays a critical role in regulating mood and emotional well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, and can make it more difficult to cope with daily life. Additionally, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in the risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Walker also notes that sleep is essential for maintaining the overall health of the brain, as lack of sleep can affect the brain's ability to repair itself and can increase the risk of developing neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

In summary, Matthew Walker, emphasizes that sleep is essential for maintaining the health of the brain and disruptions to the sleep-wake cycle can have serious consequences for brain function. Sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation, clearing out toxins and waste products that can accumulate in the brain during wakefulness, regulating mood, emotional well-being, and maintaining the overall health of the brain. Furthermore, chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, depression and anxiety, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

How does exercise improve deep sleep?

Walker explains that engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day can help to increase the amount of deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, that a person gets. Deep sleep is the stage of sleep when the brain and body are able to repair and restore themselves, making it essential for overall health and well-being.

Additionally, exercise can also help to regulate the body's circadian rhythm, the internal "clock" that controls the sleep-wake cycle. It does this by influencing the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. When melatonin levels are sufficient, it can help to promote deeper and more restful sleep.

Exercise can also have a positive impact on mood and emotional well-being, which can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Physical activity can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and can also improve overall cardiovascular health.

It is important to note that the timing of exercise is also important, as it's best to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can lead to an increase in body temperature and can make it harder to fall asleep.

What are Walker’s no-gos for restful sleep?

Walker cautions against eating foods that are high in sugar and caffeine, as these can disrupt sleep patterns and make it more difficult to fall asleep. He also advises against eating large meals close to bedtime, as this can lead to indigestion and discomfort that can keep you awake.

In addition to dietary recommendations, Walker also emphasizes the importance of regular exercise for improving sleep quality. He suggests that engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day can help increase the amount of deep sleep you get and make it easier to fall asleep at night.

In conclusion, Matthew Walker is a leading expert on sleep and the author of the bestselling book "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams." He emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise for promoting restful sleep. Eating a diet rich in magnesium, calcium and tryptophan, and avoiding foods high in sugar and caffeine, can help improve sleep quality. Furthermore, avoiding large meals before bedtime can also prevent indigestion and discomfort that can affect sleep negatively.

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