Scientific research has revealed the importance of having a good night’s sleep on our physical, mental and emotional health.
When you sleep well, your body has the time to heal and repair, while your brain creates new neural pathways. You therefore wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the new day. The quality of our sleep affects what we choose to eat and conversely, what we choose to eat affects the quality of our sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we tend to crave high-sugar foods so that we can have the energy to make it through the day. Today, we explore how the foods that we choose to eat affect how easily we fall asleep and stay asleep.
Before we dive into the foods that are best for a good night’s sleep, let me explain what the body needs for sleep. Melatonin is an important hormone produced in the brain that controls our sleep cycle. How well our body uses melatonin is affected by our consumption of tryptophan, an essential amino acid (the building blocks of protein) that influences the level of melatonin and serotonin (another important sleep hormone) in the brain. Since tryptophan is an essential amino acid, it cannot be produced by the body and can only be obtained through our diet.
It’s probably no surprise that a healthy, balanced diet also leads to a good night’s sleep. A healthy, balanced diet is one that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat proteins and healthy fats and is low in added sugar and saturated fats,this supports a healthy sleep cycle for many reasons:
• A healthy balanced diet is rich in B vitamins which makes tryptophan more available to the body and thus regulates melatonin.
• In addition, a healthy balanced diet is less likely to be deficient in magnesium, a mineral that supports deep restorative sleep.
• On the other hand if your diet is high in processed and refined foods, you would likely have nutrient deficiencies which will impact your melatonin production.
• Furthermore, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates could lead to sleep disturbances as the spike in blood sugar can block melatonin production.
• Eating a balanced diet helps you to achieve a healthy weight which also reduces your risk of insomnia, sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances.
Here are specific foods that may be helpful for a good night’s rest and provide many other benefits to the body:
Nuts are rich in tryptophan. In addition, almonds are a good source of magnesium and walnuts also contain melatonin.
Certain fruits like bananas, pineapple, oranges, tart cherries and kiwis also contain melatonin.
Most protein will contain tryptophan, but turkey and other poultry, as well as eggs, contain higher levels. Legumes also provide high levels of tryptophan as well as B-vitamins. Fish, such as sardines, also provides magnesium.
Dairy products like yoghurt and milk are high in tryptophan and also contain magnesium and B-vitamins, all of which support good sleep. Plus, the ritual of having a warm cup of milk at bedtime has been shown to support sleep.
Alternatively you can steep a caffeine-free tea such as chamomile or peppermint at bedtime for your nightly ritual, which relaxes the nerves and the muscles in the body.
Leafy-greens are great for many reasons including providing calcium and magnesium, which support healthy melatonin levels. In addition, the fiber from the greens helps to limit spikes in blood sugar which can block melatonin production.
Just as there are foods that promote healthy sleep, there are foods that will make falling asleep, or staying asleep, difficult. Some of these foods should be minimised for optimal health and should be avoided at dinnertime to ensure you get a good night’s sleep:
Caffeine, spicy food and high-fat meals, which can cause heartburn and keep you up at night.
High sugar foods and sodas
Many people believe a nightcap (alcoholic beverage) at bedtime helps them to get to sleep. An occasional alcoholic beverage at bedtime is fine, however, long-term use of a night-cap can lead to insomnia and frequent wake-ups during the night.
Sleep is essential for our physical, mental and emotional health. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, in addition to looking at your diet, you can also create a bedtime ritual to help your body and mind wind down at the end of the day. In addition, making sure that you have good sleep conditions such as a dark, well-ventilated room.