Eating for Better Sleep

Eating for Better Sleep


Most people have experienced how food and drinks can impact their alertness and energy levels, whether a jolt of energy after a cup of coffee or drowsiness after a celebratory feast. Researchers, including nutritionists and sleep experts, have conducted various studies to identify the best foods for sleep. Although the research isn't definitive, certain foods and drinks promote a better night's sleep.

Both diet and sleep are complex, meaning there isn't a single silver bullet or one food that can guarantee sleep quality. However, some foods and drinks contain components that may make falling and staying asleep easier. Here's a closer look at how to eat for better sleep during Sleep Month.

Why Specific Foods Can Affect Sleep

Certain foods, based on their nutritional components or research findings, can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. However, it's essential to remember that the nutrient profile of foods can vary depending on the variety and growing conditions.

Dietary choices affect more than just energy and sleepiness; they can impact weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar levels. For this reason, it's best to consult with a doctor or dietitian before making significant changes to your diet to ensure your choices support your overall health, including sleep quality.

Foods and Drinks That Promote Better Sleep

  1. Kiwi

The kiwi or kiwifruit is a small, oval-shaped fruit known for its association with New Zealand despite being grown in many countries. There are green and gold varieties, though green kiwis are more common.

Kiwifruit is rich in vitamins C and E, potassium, and folate. Research suggests that eating kiwi can improve sleep. In one study, people who ate two kiwis an hour before bedtime fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality. Researchers believe this may relate to kiwi's antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies and high concentration of serotonin.

  1. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries, sometimes called sour cherries, include cultivars like Montmorency and English Morello. They are often sold whole or as tart cherry juice.

Studies show that drinking tart cherry juice can benefit sleep. Tart cherries contain high concentrations of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the circadian rhythm and may have antioxidant properties that aid sleep.

  1. Malted Milk

Malted milk combines milk and a specially formulated powder containing wheat flour, malted wheat, barley, sugar, and vitamins. Known as Horlick's (a popular brand), past studies have found that it reduces sleep interruptions.

Malted milk's sleep benefits could be attributed to the B and D vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium in it. Additionally, milk contains melatonin, and some products are melatonin-enriched. When cows are milked at night, their milk contains higher melatonin levels, offering a natural source of the sleep-inducing hormone.

  1. Fatty Fish

A study found that people who ate salmon three times a week had better overall sleep and improved daytime functioning. Fatty fish provide vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which help release and regulate serotonin, a key player in sleep. The study focused on fish consumption in the winter when vitamin D levels are typically lower.

  1. Nuts

Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews contain melatonin, omega-3s, magnesium, and zinc, all of which can help improve sleep. In one clinical trial, a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc helped older adults with insomnia sleep longer and deeper.

  1. Rice

While carbohydrate intake and sleep studies have shown mixed results, some evidence links rice consumption to better sleep. A study in Japan found that adults who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles. However, this study only identified an association and required further research.

Foods and Drinks That Disrupt Sleep

  1. Caffeine

Caffeine is found in various foods and beverages, including energy drinks, decaffeinated coffee and tea, non-cola sodas, chocolate, ice cream, and breakfast cereals. These sources of caffeine can disrupt sleep, so it's essential to limit them before bedtime.

  1. Alcohol

Research shows that while alcohol may initially help people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt restorative sleep stages and worsen sleep apnea symptoms. Instead of alcohol, opt for tart cherry juice before bed.

  1. Spicy Foods

Spicy foods can cause heartburn, mainly when lying down, and increase core body temperature, making it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid spicy foods within three hours of bedtime.

  1. High-Fat and High-Protein Foods

High-fat diets can cause fragmented sleep and daytime drowsiness. High-protein foods like steak and chicken can also disrupt sleep because they take longer to digest. Additionally, aged or processed cheeses contain tyramine, which may stimulate the brain.

Dietary Insights for Better Sleep

Eat Complex Carbohydrates:

Foods like whole-wheat toast or oatmeal trigger the release of serotonin and digest quickly.

Avoid Sugary Foods and Junk Food:

These can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and interfere with the body's sleep cycle.

Incorporate Lean Protein:

Lean protein sources like poultry, eggs, and seafood contain tryptophan, which the body uses to produce serotonin and melatonin.

Stay Hydrated with Herbal Tea:

Chamomile tea can help you relax before bedtime, but avoid caffeinated teas like black tea.

The Big Picture: Diet and Sleep

A healthy, balanced diet supports overall physical and mental health, including sleep quality. The sleep cycle relies on many chemicals, enzymes, nutrients, amino acids, and hormones working together. Foods and drinks can help regulate this cycle by promoting the production of sleep-inducing chemicals like melatonin.

Conversely, poor dietary choices can exacerbate sleeplessness by hindering the production of these chemicals or causing gastrointestinal discomfort. Following an anti-insomnia diet focused on fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats while avoiding alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and spicy or greasy foods can help you sleep better and support your well-being.

Eating for better sleep during Sleep Month can help improve your sleep quality and overall health. By incorporating sleep-promoting foods like kiwi, tart cherries, and fatty fish and avoiding sleep disruptors like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods, you can enjoy a restful night's sleep and wake up refreshed and rejuvenated.