Evidence has grown supporting the role for short sleep duration as an independent risk factor for weight gain and obesity. The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between sleep duration and dietary quality in European adolescents. The sample consisted of 1522 adolescents (aged 12·5–17·5 years) participating in the European multi-centre cross-sectional ‘Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence’ study. Sleep duration was estimated by a self-reported questionnaire. Dietary intake was assessed by two 24 h recalls. The Diet Quality Index for Adolescents with Meal index (DQI-AM) was used to calculate overall dietary quality, considering the components dietary equilibrium, dietary diversity, dietary quality and a meal index. An average sleep duration of ≥ 9 h was classified as optimal, between 8 and 9 h as borderline insufficient and < 8 h as insufficient. Sleep duration and the DQI-AM score were positively associated (β = 0·027, r 0·130, P< 0·001). Adolescents with insufficient (62·05 (sd 14·18)) and borderline insufficient sleep (64·25 (sd 12·87)) scored lower on the DQI-AM than adolescents with an optimal sleep duration (64·57 (sd 12·39)) (P< 0·001; P= 0·018). The present study demonstrated in European adolescents that short sleep duration was associated with a lower dietary quality. This supports the hypothesis that the health consequences of insufficient sleep may be mediated by the relationship of insufficient sleep to poor dietary quality.