Nutrition For Better Sleep

Sleep is a fundamental and intricate component of human physiology, playing a pivotal role in maintaining overall health and well-being. Its importance extends beyond mere rest, encompassing essential functions such as cognitive performance, emotional regulation, immune function, and metabolic balance. 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 depressionhypertensionheart attackstrokediabetesobesity and others, making it critical to take action sooner rather than later

In this context, the impact of nutrition on sleep has garnered attention as a modifiable lifestyle factor that can influence sleep patterns. Understanding how your nutrition can affect your sleep, supports adopting dietary strategies that support optimal sleep hygiene, contributing to an overall healthier and more balanced lifestyle. 

Our 2024 Year of Transformation program continues this week with Chef Pete exploring all things related to sleep.

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.

  • Weight Loss - 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.
  • Concentration - Sleep is critical to brain function, influencing cognition, concentration, productivity and performance. Short sleep has been found to 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 a 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 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. Choosing foods that are rich in the right nutrients is vital to support your sleep patterns. Various dietary factors play a role in regulating sleep patterns, and addressing deficiencies or imbalances can contribute to better sleep hygiene. 

Macronutrients For Sleep

Carbohydrates - Incorporating real-food-based dense sources of carbohydrates like root vegetables and winter squashes can promote the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to relaxation and sleep. Read more on your starchy carbohydrates in this post

Proteins - Including humanely raised animal proteins in your diet, such as grass-finished meats, pastured poultry and eggs and wild-caught fish can aid in the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin, both essential for regulating sleep-wake cycles.

Fats - Healthy fats, like those found in well-raised animal fats, avocados, nuts, and olive oil, can support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, which plays a role in regulating sleep. Learn more about healthy fats here

Micronutrients For Sleep

Magnesium - Magnesium is involved in muscle relaxation and the regulation of the sleep hormone melatonin. Foods rich in magnesium include fatty fish, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.

Zinc - Zinc is crucial for the proper functioning of neurotransmitters that influence sleep. Foods high in zinc include oysters, meat, poultry and dairy (if tolerated).

Vitamin B6 - This vitamin is involved in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin. Sources include beef (especially liver), poultry and fish.

Iron - Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome, a common sleep disruptor. Good sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

Sleep-Inducing Compounds

Tryptophan - Found in turkey, chicken, dairy, and nuts, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, promoting relaxation and sleepiness.

Melatonin-rich Foods - Certain foods, like tart cherries and tomatoes, contain natural melatonin and may aid in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

Some foods that contain key sleep nutrients and hormones, important for a successful slumber include:

Fatty Fish - 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). Eating a few ounces of fatty fish before bed may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. 

Kiwifruit -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.

Turkey - Rich in riboflavin, phosphorus and selenium, turkey is great for overall health, however, it also contains the amino acid tryptophan. 

Walnuts - 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. 

Pumpkin Seeds -Magnesium and zinc are two important minerals found in pumpkin seeds. 

Starchy Carbohydrates -To fall asleep faster, you might want to consider eating starchy carbohydrates before bedtime to support falling asleep faster.

Carbohydrate meals are important in aiding tryptophan to reach the brain and including foods like sweet potatoes and yams might be beneficial to getting a good night’s sleep.  

Chamomile Tea -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. 

Fruit -Certain fruits that contain melatonin and may help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. Try including tart or sour cherries, pineapples and oranges for these benefits. Bananas house a wealth of important nutrients have been shown to reduce anxiety – one of the leading causes of sleeplessness.

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Avoid Caffeine and Stimulants - Limiting caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening, is crucial. Stimulants can interfere with the onset and quality of sleep.

Meal Timing

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. Eating a large meal shortly before bed can be particularly disrupting your sleep cycle.

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.

Optimizing nutrition for better sleep involves a holistic approach, considering both macronutrients and micronutrients, as well as lifestyle factors. While dietary changes can contribute to improved sleep, it's essential to address other aspects of sleep hygiene, such as creating a comfortable sleep environment, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and managing stress. Read on here to learn more on how to optimize your sleep.

Embracing a nutrient-dense diet that incorporates foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, zinc, and other essential nutrients can contribute to improved relaxation and the synthesis of sleep-promoting compounds. This, combined with healthy lifestyle habits, such as managing caffeine intake and being mindful of meal timing, will support getting a good night’s sleep, every night.

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