Sleep and Nutrition: Are the Two Related?
Can food choices affect your sleep? This article talks about the relationship between sleep and nutrition to help you make more informed choices.
Sleep and nutrition are closely related
Some foods can make you sleepy while others can keep you awake
Dietary changes can have a significant impact on your sleep quality
Did you know?
Sleep deprivation can cause you to crave higher calorie foods
Does that heavy lunch leave you begging for a nap? Do you find it difficult to stay awake when you skip your morning oatmeal? This is because sleep and nutrition are closely related. While some foods make you sleepy, others keep you awake. Sleep also affects our eating habits.
There’s no one-size-fits all diet that will perfect your sleep patterns, and that’s okay! Simply forming a better understanding of the relationship between food and sleep can help you sleep better and improve your quality of life.
How Does Nutrition Regulate Sleep?
A balanced diet is key to fighting many health problems including sleep complaints. Our body generates energy from nutrients, but the quality and quantity of these nutrients matter
We need a certain amount of calories to maintain normal hormonal and neural functions. So, calorie intake highly influences sleep. Eating too little or too much can result in poor sleep quality.
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Which Foods Should You Eat for Good Quality Sleep?
For relaxing sleep, quality is more important than calories. A balance between macronutrients such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is crucial. Eating plenty of high-quality lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and essential fibers might be a winning combination
However, it is important to remember to consult a medical professional when it comes to individual dietary changes. For example, some studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on sleep quality, but further research is needed to determine whether this should be used for individual health recommendations.
Understanding some simple nutrition facts might help more than overhauling your whole diet.
Simple carbs (high sugar chocolate bars, baked goods, fruit juices) can cause rapid changes in blood sugar levels, giving you a boost in energy and then making you feel sleepy. A study at Columbia University found that postmenopausal women who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates (think added sugars, white bread, and soda) were more likely to develop insomnia than other groups.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, are higher in fiber and tend to digest more slowly, helping to reduce the blood sugar spike you experience after a meal. In the same study, women who ate more complex carbs (think vegetables, whole fruits, and foods high in fiber) were less likely to develop insomnia.
Does Meal Timing Matter?
It's not just about what you eat – it also matters when you eat it!
Eating particular nutrients at dinner might help you fall asleep. Our bodies contain essential amino acids like tryptophan that we can’t produce on our own. That means we have to get them from food.
Our body uses tryptophan to make melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone and serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. So, tryptophan-rich foods can help you sleep better and cheer you up! Chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, peanuts, milk, and pumpkin are sources of tryptophan
Other meals might keep you away from your cozy bedroom. Tyramine is a chemical derived from the amino acid tyrosine. Since it can promote a higher level of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates your body and keeps you awake, consuming it at dinner might lead to a restless night.
Foods rich in tyramine and tyrosine including aged cheese, dark chocolate, pickled veggies, condiments, and smoked or processed meats. Unfortunately, tap beer and red wines also contain tyramine. While these foods and drinks are delicious, it's best to avoid them before bedtime
The Relationship between Food and Sleep
Several studies show that lack of sleep and poor sleep quality increase obesity risk. Fatigue is one of the causes, but the biology behind it is more complicated.
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that regulate appetite and eating habits. When fat starts to accumulate, leptin limits energy intake and decreases appetite. People with sleep problems have significantly lower levels of this hormone and its regulatory effect is highly impaired. Ghrelin has the opposite effect; it increases appetite and stimulates fat storage. Poor sleep increases ghrelin levels in the body.
These hormonal changes are one reason why poor sleep is often linked to weight gain
Tips for Better Nutrition and Sleep
Now that you understand how food influences sleep and vice versa, here are some tips to help you sleep better.
- Choose your carbs wisely. Prioritize complex carbohydrates. The glycaemic index (GI) indicates the complexity of your carbs. Higher numbers mean that the sugar causes rapid peaks and drops in blood sugar levels. Foods with GI include whole grains, oatmeal, veggies, sour fruits, seeds, nuts, and unsweetened dairy products.
- Pay attention to tryptophan and tyramine. Tryptophan-rich foods can help you sleep. While eating them at dinner is a wise choice, you can limit them during the day to avoid unwanted sleepiness. Tyramine keeps you awake and takes 2-3 hours to eliminate from your body. Avoiding tyramine-rich foods like aged cheese, red wine, or dark chocolate late at night might pay off in the morning.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol disrupts sleep structure. Try avoiding alcoholic beverages at least 3 hours before going to bed.
- Cultivate a sleep sanctuary. A comfortable bedroom can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. You might find that you fall asleep easier and wake up more rested with a weighted blanket such as our Cotton Napper. Or maybe you want to add some life to your space with a potted plant. Whatever the case, we hope you find a peaceful combination that leads to more restful nights and delicious meals.