What to Eat for a Good Night’s Sleep
We all know the impressive impact of a decent night's slumber. You feel refreshed in the morning, motivated to move your body, inspired to eat a healthy breakfast - even your mood feels lighter when you open up those curtains. Yet, whilst that night of deep, restorative sleep is considered to be the Holy Grail of health, so many of us are struggling to actually get it. In fact, almost two thirds of people in the UK have problems regularly getting a good night’s sleep, while about one in three may suffer from chronic insomnia.
This is significant as we now know that consistently getting good sleep is vital for long term optimal mental and physical health. Furthermore, chronic sleep deficiency may raise your risk of chronic health issues as well as affecting how well you react, think, work and socialise.
With stress levels on the rise, processed food consumption at an all time high, technologies constantly demanding our attention and a world where our exposure to nature and sunlight is on the decline, it’s no surprise that people are finding it difficult to get enough sleep.
Sleep is affected by a myriad of factors, and you may be surprised to know that it is often what you do within the day that makes a huge difference to the quality of sleep you get at night. From your exercise regime, daylight viewing hours and stress management behaviours, there are many small ways to pave the way for a restful slumber. But what about the food you eat?
You will know by now that nutrition is responsible for so much more than just your weight and ‘fuel’ for the body - but many do not realise that the food you eat can also influence how well you sleep. In terms of sleep ‘fixes’, changing your nutrition is massively underappreciated and yet may have a great impact for some. Worth a try we say!
So today on World Sleep Day, we take a deep dive into the Nutritionists guide to eating for sleep;
Nutrients for sleep
First of all, some nutrients are essential for the normal functioning of cells that are related to sleep. Therefore getting enough of these nutrients in our diet is crucial to ensure we are providing the body with what it needs to naturally sleep well (1). Nutrients include; iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin C,vitamins B6 &12, calcium, potassium and zinc. Studies show an insufficiency in these nutrients may cause various sleep related issues ranging from insomnia (often correlated with low levels of magnesium, iron & b12) non-restorative sleep (calcium, vitamin C) daytime fatigue (iron, Vitamin D, potassium) and short sleep duration and quality (zinc).
Many of us are trapped in an over reliance of eating the same foods on rotation or overloading our bodies with processed foods, leaving us undernourished of these key vitamins and minerals. Whilst more people are turning to plant-based diets, some are not replacing key nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron with the plant versions. Alongside this, when our body is under a stress demand, we often burn through our nutrient stores, creating a vicious sleepy and stressful cycle. All of this creates a picture that can make micronutrient deficiencies more likely.
Paying attention to your particular sleep issue may help you to determine which nutrient you could be lacking. Finding it hard to fall asleep? Low magnesium may be the culprit as this calming nutrient is soothing for the nervous system and helps to relax muscles. Often referred to as nature’s tranquilliser, magnesium is also one of the most common deficient minerals. Trouble staying asleep? A study(2) published in the journal Sleep, found that potassium may be helpful whilst other research suggests that people with low blood levels of vitamin C are more prone to waking up during the night (3). Can’t remember your dreams? Studies have shown supplementation of Vitamin B6 can help people remember what they dreamt about the night before. This essential vitamin also helps to modulate your body’s stress response and relax your nervous system, therefore a key player for bedtime bliss (4).
As well as their nutrient profile, certain foods can also either be stimulating or soporific (5). Examples of some stimulating foods include cured or processed meats, cheese, citrus fruits, nuts, soy sauce, red wine, tomatoes or aubergines. These foods all contain Tyramine, an amino acid that is converted to noradrenaline, a brain stimulant.
If sleep is an issue, you may also consider avoiding too many high fat or fried foods in the evening as these cause havoc with your digestion and liver whilst your body is trying to rest. The gut microbiome also plays a critical role in sleep regulation, therefore changes in the gut microbiome may affect sleep quality.
Towards the other end of the scale, certain foods have shown promising results for actually improving sleep quality and quantity. Studies particularly point to foods high in the amino acid tryptophan (6). Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in most protein based foods, is used by the body to make serotonin and melatonin, important neurotransmitters crucial for healthy sleep. Low levels of serotonin may be linked to a disruption of circadian rhythms and restless sleep, whilst a diet poor in tryptophan also appears to further impair sleep. High tryptophan foods you may want to include are turkey, beef, eggs, oats, pumpkin seeds and bananas.
Interestingly, carbohydrates also help to increase the levels of tryptophan in our brains (7). However, going either too low or too high in carbohydrates may have detrimental effects on sleep quality. Focusing on nutrient-dense carbs such as sweet potatoes, rice and beans could be a good way to balance this out. Those on a low carb diet and also suffering from insomnia may find adding some carbs at dinner an easy and effective way to improve sleep.
Aside from tryptophan, some singular foods have been studied for their soporific effects. Sour cherries in particular are a rich source of food-based melatonin and have been found to significantly increase total sleep time when supplemented as tart cherry juice (8).
Kiwi fruit may also improve sleep quality by providing food-based serotonin and potentially through supporting your gut microbiome (9).
Magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens and almonds are also great additions to a sleep-support diet.
Finally, collagen, gelatin and bone broth, all abundant in the amino acid glycine, have been shown to have sleep promoting effects (10). This is in part because glycine decreases our body temperature. When preparing our body to sleep, we are designed to experience a drop in core temperature at night. Therefore by encouraging this action, it may promote a restful bedtime.
When we eat
As with any good nutrition advice, it’s not just about what you eat but also when. Eating irregularly throughout the day, late at night or close to bedtime are all linked with circadian rhythm disruption and therefore poor sleep outcomes. A healthy circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock which regulates processes in our body, is associated with high-quality, restorative sleep (11). Conversely, regular meal times during the day and avoiding late night dinner and snacking, promotes a robust circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle. Eating around 3hrs before bed can be a great time to sit down for your last meal of the day (12).
Caffeine is also often touted as a sleep disruptor, however it is more likely to be inappropriately timed caffeine consumption (13). Whilst it is true that some are extremely sensitive to caffeine and therefore can really benefit from cutting this from their routine, many people simply are having too much, too often. It becomes problematic when people are drinking caffeine late in the day, as it reduces sleep pressure at night and can reduce restorative deep sleep and increase nighttime awakenings. Limiting these drinks to around 2 cups a day and stopping caffeine consumption around midday allows the body ample time to build up enough sleep pressure and metabolise the stimulant from their system before bedtime.
Try our sleepy smoothie!
This combination of melatonin-forming foods and good quality protein may help to promote those sleepy hormones, setting you up for a peaceful slumber. Drinking it around an hour before bedtime is recommended to ensure your body has time to absorb the nutrients.
30ml Tart Cherry Juice
1 cup Almond Milk
1 tbsp rolled oats
1 tsp almond butter or handful of walnuts
1 serving of True Collagen or Radiant Collagyn
Method: Whizz all of the ingredients in a blender and sip slowly