How many hours of sleep do you get a day? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of the US population do not get enough sleep. It is hard to imagine getting 7-9 hours of quality shut eye daily. The rustle and bustle of life starts taking over and we often forgo sleep in the process. But did you know that nutrition can also affect the quality of sleep?
Importance of Sleep
First, let us discuss the importance of sleep. Sleep plays a significant part in overall health and well being. It is the time when our body rejuvenates and works to maintain homeostasis. Lack of sleep is often associated with an array of health problems, including overweight/obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, memory issues, etc.
Sleep deprivation also affects the immune system. During sleep, our body produces cytokines (responsible for regulating our immune response to combat foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses). Not getting enough sleep weakens our defense system by reducing cytokine production and may even elongate your recovery from an illness.
Hormonal imbalance is also affected by irregular sleep. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that affect appetite; leptin induces satiety and ghrelin stimulates appetite. Inadequate sleep causes a decrease in leptin levels and an increase in ghrelin, thus leading to the problem of overeating. Some studies show that sleep deprivation, or less than 7 hours of daily sleep, may be associated with unhealthy food choices throughout the day (including sweets and high fat foods). You are least likely to choose unhealthy food choices if you are well rested.
How does nutrition affect sleep?
Nutrition and meal patterns have a direct relationship, good or bad, to sleep quality.
For example, eating a meal too close to bedtime may lead to difficulty sleeping. The types of foods we eat as nighttime snacks can also affect sleep quality. Ice cream, pastries, sweet drinks, or foods that contain a high concentration of refined/added sugar, may cause difficulty sleeping and also contribute to blood sugar spikes, signaling excess insulin production, at night time. This will affect weight and diabetes management.
Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, plays an important part in sleep quality. We need adequate amounts of melatonin for a good night’s sleep. We can get melatonin from several different pathways: 1) from food and 2) converted from tryptophan or serotonin. Naturally occurring tryptophan and serotonin are also found in foods, which is discussed in the next section. Choosing foods high in tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin are excellent ways to ensure an adequate supply of the sleep-wake hormone.
Foods to Eat Before Bedtime
- Complex Carbohydrates: Instead of white bread/rice/pastries (which may reduce serotonin levels and sleep quality), try to choose whole wheat/whole grain options instead for better sleep.
- Choose the Right Protein: Lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey or fish (high tryptophan foods), may help promote sleep by increasing serotonin levels in the body.
- Healthy Fats: Nuts and seeds are good sources of unsaturated fats to boost serotonin levels. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios also contain a good concentration of melatonin. A quarter cup of these nuts as a snack may induce a good night’s rest. Try to avoid high fat/fried foods at night, which reduces sleep quality and contributes to weight gain.
- Beverages Do’s and Don’ts: Try a warm cup of milk or a cup of herbal tea (e.g. camomille, ginger, or peppermint) for better sleep quality. Many researchers studied the relationship between milk and sleep. Some say there is a link between the tryptophan and melatonin concentrations in milk and sleep quality; however, there is no concluding evidence. However, most people psychologically associate warm milk to their childhood and it helps ease our minds into slumber. Unlike caffeinated teas, herbal teas do not contain caffeine and thus will not stimulate the mind/body so it is easier to fall asleep. It also has a calming effect.
- Fruits: Melatonin-rich fruits include: tart cherries/juice, pineapple, oranges, etc.
Remember that food plays a part in overall sleep quality. Choosing the right types of food may give you better sleep, leaving you well rested and ready to tackle the next day. Sweet dreams and happy eating!
- Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Anja Mikic, Cara E Pietrolungo, Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 7, Issue 5, September 2016, Pages 938–949, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012336
Impact of Sleep Restriction on Food Intake and Food Choice https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128166581000235