Besides caffeine, the relationship between sleep and food is often overlooked by many.
In this article, I will explain how sleep and food influence each other, what foods you should consider adding to your diet, and which ones you should be careful about.
🔎 Feel free to jump to your preferred section in this article:
1. How Nutrition Influences Sleep
» Foods and Drinks that Affect Sleep Positively
» Food and Drinks that Affect Sleep Negatively
» The Importance of a Balanced Diet
2. How Sleep Influences Nutrition
3. Mindful Eating
4. FAQ – Answering Some Questions
1. How Nutrition Influences Sleep
What you eat and drink can have positive or negative effects on your sleep.
1.1 Foods and Drinks that Affect Sleep Positively 🟢
Different foods and drinks can help promote sleep in different ways.
Studies have shown evidence that certain nutrients positively affect sleep. They do this by contributing to the production/regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for our sleep.
Those nutrients are:
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin.
Foods rich in this amino acid are:
- Greek Yogurt
Magnesium is a mineral that contributes to muscle relaxation and also helps regulate N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain, which are involved in sleepx
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to sleep problems and stress.
Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
This mineral works together with magnesium to support muscle relaxation and nerve function. Calcium also helps the brain use tryptophan.
Calcium deficiency can cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
Foods rich in calcium include:
- Dairy products
- Fortified plant milks
1.1.4 Vitamin D
Vitamin D contributes to the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin.
Vitamin D can be found in these foods:
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods.
However, remember it’s impossible to achieve the daily dose of vitamin D necessarily for optimal health (upwards of 5000 UI) through diet alone.
Therefore you should consider the two main sources of that vitamin which are sunlight exposure and supplementation.
1.1.5 Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 can protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, which are conditions that can negatively affect the production of hormones or neurotransmitters that are responsible for having good sleep metrics.
Omega-3s can also improve sleep by improving mood; or reduce pain caused by inflammation.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds.
This hormone is produced by the pineal gland and is commonly known as the “sleep hormone”.
Melatonin supplements exist and there’s evidence they work, but they can also be found in some foods, such as:
- Tart cherries
- Pigmented Rice
Potassium is a mineral that helps with muscle relaxation and nerve function but has been found to help achieve better sleep too.
Some potassium-rich foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
1.1.8 Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is important for brain function and the production of melatonin.
Foods that are rich in Vitamin B6 include:
Protein provides some amino acids that are precursors for hormones and neurotransmitters involved in sleep regulation (e.g. tryptophan).
So, eating foods high in protein at night can help us improve our sleep metrics.
Fiber is known for improving sleep quality, by increasing the amount of deep sleep we getx.
Eating foods high in fiber at night can help us feel full and satisfied during the night.
High-fiber foods that help promote sleep are:
- Whole Grains
- Nuts and Seeds
- Sweet Potatoes
1.2 Food and Drinks that Affect Sleep Negatively 🔴
Some foods and drinks can interfere with sleep by stimulating the nervous system, causing indigestion, or disrupting the circadian rhythm.
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes us drowsy. Ingesting too much caffeine too close to bedtime can interfere with multiple sleep metricsx — sleep onset latency, total sleep duration, sleep quality, and time spent in deep sleep — so it should be avoided later in the day.
When trying to avoid caffeine, you should not only try to avoid coffee but also other less-known sources of the stimulant:
- Decaf coffee has much lower doses of caffeine than regular coffee, but it still contains about 2 to 15 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
- Non-cola sodas and energy drinks can have 34 – 54 milligrams of caffeine per can.
- Cacao beans are naturally caffeinated, so anything derived from them, like chocolate, will contain amounts of caffeine in it.
- Energy bars may contain caffeine or other sources such as guarana seeds, and green tea extract.
1.2.2 Spicy Foods
Spicy foods can have some negative effects on your sleep quality, mainly due to the following reasons:
- Spicy foods can trigger the release of histamine, a neurotransmitter known as being wake-promotingx (anti-histamine pills are even taken by many due to their sleepiness-inducing side effects).
- Spicy foods can cause indigestion or acid reflux, which will likely interfere with your sleep.
Alcohol is a depressant that can make us feel relaxed and sleepy at first, but then disrupt our sleep cycles and reduce the amount of deep and REM sleep we get. This deprives the body and the brain of the benefits of those sleep stages.
Alcohol can also increase the number of times you wake up during the night (i.e. number of awakenings) and reduce your overall sleep time, leading to sleep deprivation and all its undesirable consequences on health.
Finally, it will worsen the symptoms of some already-present sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea, insomnia).
Sugar can cause blood sugar level fluctuations, affecting our mood, appetite, and sleep.
1.3 The Importance of a Balanced Diet
A diet, to be considered balanced, must provide the nutrition we need for maintaining a healthy body and mind in a sustainable and reliable way.
As we’ve seen in a previous section, there are many vitamins and minerals that are supportive of good sleep, and a balanced diet should be able to supply them regularly.
However, there is another way that a balanced diet can facilitate sleep: by preventing or managing chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, and depression) which can affect sleep quality and quantity. For example:
- Diabetes can cause blood sugar level fluctuations, which can affect our sleep.
- Heart disease can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeat, unpleasant and disturbing conditions that can easily interfere with sleep.
- Although depression is sometimes associated with increased sleepiness and lethargy, it can cause insomnia in some people.
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2. How Sleep Influences Nutrition
How does sleep influence nutrition? Simply put, sleeping properly can help you be more fit and physically healthy.
2.1 Weight Management
Studies have shown some evidence that sleep can help with weight management.
Here are some proposed explanations:
- When you don’t get enough sleep, your levels of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates hunger) increase, and your levels of leptin (the hormone that signals fullness) decrease.
- When you are sleep-deprived, you may crave more high-calorie and high-carbohydrate foods, leading to eating more calories and storing more fat.
- When you have slept well, you have more energy and motivation to go out there and exercise, increasing your metabolic rate and decreasing your fat levels.
2.2 Muscle Building
Not everyone knows that sleep is the foundation for muscle growth. Muscle growth doesn’t happen at the gym; it happens during sleep.
- Weightlifting = muscle destruction
- Sleep = muscle reconstruction
However, for this process to occur optimally, it requires the appropriate building blocks. These building blocks are the nutrients from food, more specifically from protein.
So, to build more muscle mass, it is necessary to do two things related to sleep and food:
- Provide the sleep process with enough muscle-building blocks (i.e. high protein intake).
- Allow for the restorative muscle-building process to occur (i.e. getting plenty of deep sleep).
3. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a practice that involves becoming more conscious of our relationship with food.
It makes us become more intentional about our food and enjoy it more mindfully.
3.1 Mindful Eating Tips
Some tips for mindful eating include:
- Eating only when hungry, not bored, stressed, or tired.
- Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly, savoring the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food.
- Eating without distractions, such as TV, phone, or computer.
- Eating in a calm and comfortable environment, preferably at a table with proper utensils and plates.
- Eating enough but not too much, stopping when you are satisfied but not stuffed.
3.2 How Mindful Eating Helps with Sleep
Mindful eating can also improve your sleep quality in several ways.
- Mindful eating can prevent disruptions in sleep caused by overeating or undereating, such as indigestion, heartburn, reflux, hunger pangs, low blood sugar, and headaches.
- Through mindful eating, you ensure that you consume foods high in protein.
- Mindful eating increases enjoyment and satisfaction from food, helping reduce stress and anxiety which are common triggers for sleep issues.
FAQ – Answering Some Questions
Q: Is it okay to eat before bed?
Contrary to popular belief, eating before bed is not only okay, but some foods like kiwisx and tart cherry juicex might improve some sleep metrics. Eating before bed can also prevent feeling hungry during the night, which can be a problem for those who practice exercise or are otherwise very physically active.
Q: What are some known sleep-friendly diets ❓
The Mediterranean and the DASH diet are known for providing all the nutrients mentioned in the Foods and Drinks that Affect Sleep Positively section. They are also healthy diets with low incidence of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, which can create, on their own, sleeping disorders.
Turns out the Spaniards did have it all figured out with their Mediterranean diets and their afternoon siestas.
This article has told you some good news — eating better will not only improve your health but also your sleep (which in turn will also improve your health 😉).
So, you see, once you start the process of eating better, and stick to it, you will enter a positive spiraling loop 🔁
Add some exercise into the mix, and you will spiral out into the stratosphere!
Until next time,
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