Have you ever had a few nights of poor sleep and noticed your appetite seems insatiable? Or you need an extra pick me up, and after that caffeine hit of choice, you've got that boost you needed to kick the afternoon at your desk along? These behaviours are the by-product of the cyclical relationship between nutrition and sleep.
The relationship between nutrition and sleep is a two-way street – both have the power to positively and negatively impact each other. While most people know that having too much caffeine or an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon might lead to difficulty falling asleep, fewer people may be aware of how nutrition and dietary habits can support a better night's sleep.
The relationship between nutrition and sleep is complex, meaning there's no quick fix or one specific food guaranteed to help with sleep. But the good news is that some foods and habits may make getting a great night's sleep more manageable, which I wanted to highlight today.
Let's explore nutrition tips and habits that help support regular, good sleep, which is essential in living a healthy, happy life :
Taking a global look at each meal, the composition you want to aim for is some high-quality protein (plant or animal), slow-release, high-fibre carbohydrates, colours (fruits or vegetables, aka the micronutrient powerhouses) and healthy fats. Balancing these elements in each meal helps to satisfy and manage our appetite, plus prevent the ravenous hunger we may experience at the end of the day. Similarly, it can help reduce regular sweet cravings, which may be the by-product of not having enough protein or fibre across the day. It can drive people to overeat closer to bedtime, disrupting a good night's sleep.
Meals featuring all these elements also provide stable sources of essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), including those that can promote sleep, like magnesium, tryptophan and melatonin. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of a dietary pattern associated with a better night's sleep; amongst the many other health benefits, it is correlated with heart health.
Now that we know the meal composition to aim for, the next habit is to have regular, well-balanced meals (and snacks). The benefits of this habit go hand-in-hand with tips and recommendations for avoiding sleep disruptions. This includes limiting caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon when you may experience the afternoon slump, which might keep you up at night. Alternatively, reach for a high-sugar snack or drink to give you that energy boost you are searching for to get you through the day. Research has shown that people who consume a lot of highly processed carbohydrates (aka not high in fibre) or sugary foods and drinks are more likely to have a lighter and disrupted night's sleep and overall poorer quality sleep.
While it is likely more meaningful for most people to focus on their overall dietary habits and patterns rather than on individual foods and drinks, here are some specific foods and compounds worth mentioning when supporting a good night's sleep :
Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make the brain transmit serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin and melatonin are hormones that help regulate various functions, such as sleep and appetite. Foods rich in tryptophan include dairy, eggs, lentils, legumes, fish, poultry, red meat and oats.
Melatonin is a hormone the brain produces. Darkness prompts the production of melatonin (while light causes that production to stop). Interestingly, there are foods that contain melatonin, with good sources being tart cherries, oily fish, eggs, oats, rice and mushrooms.
Research has shown that adequate amounts of the mineral magnesium may improve sleep quality. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, seeds, legumes and green leafy vegetables.
Before altering your diet, if you have any underlying health conditions, consult your GP or an Accredited Practising dietitian to ensure your food choices support your sleep and your other health conditions.
ResMed is a global leader in sleep technology that has its origins right here in Australia. Our goal is to provide people with the means to awaken their best and enjoy healthier lives by promoting good sleep habits and creating awareness for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
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