Getting a good night’s sleep is critically important to your overall health and function. If you are having any kind of sleep problem, it is likely to have a negative impact on your health if left too long. Struggling with sleep over prolonged periods of time is linked to depression, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity and others, making it critical to take action sooner rather than later. What is also known is that when it comes to your health, diet is crucial and understanding which foods in your diet support your sleep can help optimize your Paleo lifestyle.
Importance of Sleep
A good night’s sleep can make you feel rested and significantly improve your quality of life, but there are other factors to watch out for.
First and foremost, sleep duration has strong links to weight gain. This is due to the role sleep plays in your hormonal balance, exercise motivation and overall mood.
If you’ve ever had a late night and attempted to run at full capacity, you most probably found your concentration waning. Sleep is critical to brain function, influencing cognition, concentration, productivity and performance. Short sleep has been found to can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication.
Reduced Illness Risk
Sleep reduces illness risk. Studies show that poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Getting sufficient amount and quality of sleep is vital.
Food & Sleep
There is a strong connection between sleep and how you metabolise food. Your diet and food choices help regulate your circadian rhythm - the roughly 24-hour cycle that our body follows each day. Shifting your eating patterns or altering what you eat drastically can create an imbalance in this rhythm. Eating poorly, particularly in the hours before bed can disrupt the quality of sleep you will have.
Essential nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and certain B vitamins may help remedy sleep symptoms. Many of these nutrients are linked to successful sleep biochemistry. The essential amino acid tryptophan must be converted by the brain into serotonin. Serotonin is in turn converted to melatonin.
Low levels of melatonin and serotonin can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Unfortunately, essential nutrient deficiencies are relatively common and include ‘key sleep nutrients’ like magnesium and vitamin B12. If you’re following a Paleo diet but having difficulty with sleep, choosing foods that are rich in the right nutrients is vital to support your sleep patterns.
Carbohydrates & Sleep
Carbohydrates get a bad rap when it comes of foods that help you sleep, but Paleo friendly, nutrient dense, whole food-based carbohydrates can actually help. While the reduction of carbohydrates immediately prior to sleep is encouraged, it is not necessary to remove the macronutrient from your nighttime eating plan altogether. A moderate intake of starchy carbohydrates, such as sweet potato and squash, along with fibrous carbohydrates like kale can help regulate your sleeping pattern. Additionally, foods that have natural sugars, such as fruit can be enjoyed moderately before bed.
Some foods that contain key sleep nutrients and hormones, important for a successful slumber include:
A serving of fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel provide close to your entire recommended daily amount of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin). Your body requires B6 to make enough serotonin, while vitamin B12 contributes towards the secretion of melatonin, contributing to healthier sleeping patterns. Eating a few ounces of fatty fish before bed may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Always ensure your fish is sustainably raised and caught for optimal nutrient density.
This delicious fruit contains the hormone serotonin which may be beneficial in treating sleep disorders. Studies have shown that eating two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime might help you get to sleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
Rich in riboflavin, phosphorus and selenium, turkey is great for overall health, however, it also houses the amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid increases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Turns out there is a scientific reason why you can’t stay awake after Christmas dinner.
Walnuts are rich in the hormone melatonin, which supports falling and staying asleep when it is released at night by the brain’s pineal gland.
Magnesium and zinc are two important minerals found in pumpkin seeds. Magnesium improves melatonin secretion and unsurprisingly, blood concentrations of magnesium are linked with sleep. In fact, increasing magnesium has been shown to increase sleep quality and length of sleep time. Magnesium also activates GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid), a sleep-favoring receptor of the nervous system. Zinc is known to contribute to sleep regulation and is associated with sleep length.
To fall asleep faster, you might want to consider eating starchy carbohydrates before bedtime. Starchy carbohydrates may hasten sleep, especially when eaten a few hours before bedtime.
Carbohydrate meals are important in aiding tryptophan to reach the brain and including some Paleo-friendly carbs such as sweet potatoes and yams might be beneficial to getting a good night’s sleep. Bananas house a wealth of important nutrients have been shown to reduce anxiety – one of the leading causes of sleeplessness.
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When it comes to drinks and foods that make you sleepy, chamomile tea is a staple. Chamomile tea has been used as a natural remedy for years to reduce inflammation, anxiety and treat insomnia. Studies show its calming properties are likely linked to an antioxidant called apigenin which, similar to sleeping medication, activates GABA neurotransmitters; helping you feel more relaxed and sleep easier. Unlike sleeping pills, however, chamomile is a natural substance which can be taken long term by anyone, old and young.
There are a few factors that the best foods for sleep all have in common and one of them is melatonin, the hormone which helps calm the body before bed. Certain fruits that contain melatonin may help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. These include;
- Tart or sour cherries
Other fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants may have a similar effect as well. Certain berries can help to counteract the oxidative stress caused by a sleep disorder, making them some of the best foods to help sleep.
When You Eat Matters
Jam-packed schedules and long workdays might result in you sitting down to later dinners or trying to fit your meals in whilst on the run. Scarf down a big meal late in the day, and you instigate a cascade of physical process that can keep the body wide awake for hours.
If you were to lie down soon after a meal in hopes of falling asleep, your body has to go against gravity to process the food you've eaten. Digestion is hard work, and it's a job best done vertically!
Should you manage to fall asleep amidst that discomfort, you might find yourself awakened by gas and heartburn. On the other hand, going to bed on an unpleasantly empty stomach may keep you awake, too.
Eat at least a few hours before you plan on bedding down. If you need a snack to soothe a rumbling tummy, opt for a light snack that follows some of the foods mentioned above. Caffeine can kick around in your body for hours, so avoid coffee, chocolate and other perk-up treats for at least 6 hours before bedtime.
Achieving deep, restorative sleep is an important part of your Paleo lifestyle. By reducing sleep-disrupting foods and behaviors and embracing nutritional interventions that can improve your sleep quality, you can get the rest you need.