Far from being older and wiser many of us have not made the connection that you need to eat right to sleep all night.
As a consequence, we have become a nation of non-sleepers, and many things can influence our ability to sleep. While you may be familiar with keeping your room dark and cool, avoiding your phone late at night, or taking a bath before bed, did you know that what you eat and drink could make or break your ability to sleep well?
How is diet linked to sleep?
This association can occur in several ways:
- Some nutrients in food are involved in synthesising the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Certain foods and drinks contain compounds that can stimulate the central nervous system, aggravate digestive issues such as heartburn and disrupt certain stages of the sleep cycle.
- Consuming too much food can lead to overweight and obesity, increasing the risk of sleep apnoea and snoring that can disrupt sleep.
Disordered eating behaviours such as comfort eating may also influence sleep due to weight gain, anxiety, and other mental health issues. These eating behaviours can lead to a vicious circle of poor food choices causing weight gain, which in turn increases anxiety and self-esteem, leading to more comfort eating. At every stage, this can impact the ability to sleep.
Poor food choices and skipping meals, which are also common when experiencing stress and anxiety, can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Foods that help encourage sleep
There are several nutrients positively associated with sleep as they play a role in the production of hormones and central nervous system that influence sleep. Deficiencies of such nutrients are also directly linked to insomnia and mental health conditions that negatively influence sleep.
|Soya beans (edamame)||Oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout)||Meat||Poultry|
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid involved in serotonin synthesis in the brain. This neurotransmitter is converted into melatonin which is the hormone that helps to make you feel tired and ready for sleep. This amino acid needs to be obtained from the diet and is found in high protein foods.
Tryptophan is the smallest and least abundant amino acid in the body. It has a lot of competition to cross the blood-brain barrier. However, carbohydrates found in foods such as pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes can help as they trigger insulin release, which reduces plasma levels of other more prominent amino acids, lessening the competition.
Most of us tend to get more than enough protein in the diet, which can ensure a good supply of tryptophan. To help promote sleep, you should consider an evening meal rich in carbohydrates. Simple varieties such as white pasta, rice, and bread have the most significant effect on tryptophan as they cause a quicker and more pronounced spike in insulin levels compared to their high-fibre counterparts.
|Chickpeas||Lentils||Liver||Oily fish Chickpeas, lentils, liver, oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout),|
|Meat||Poultry (turkey, chicken)||Bananas||Tofu|
|Soya beans (edamame)||Sweet and white potatoes||Avocado||Nuts (especially pistachios).|
Vitamin B6 has many roles to play in the body, and one is to help synthesise melatonin. Overall, most of us get enough vitamin B6 as it’s available in many foods. Still, it’s quickly depleted because of stress or excessive alcohol intake. When approaching sleep from a dietary perspective, it is a good idea to include plenty of foods rich in vitamin B6 to keep your levels topped up, especially if you are experiencing high levels of stress. In such instances, you may also want to consider a supplement.
|Dark green leafy vegetables||seeds||nuts (especially cashews)||beans|
|Pulses (especially red kidney beans and chickpeas)||lentils||oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout)||whole grains|
|Pseudo-grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, and bread)||cocoa powder||oats||avocado|
Magnesium is abundant in the body and has many functions, including activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and regulation of melatonin. This mineral binds to gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) receptors accountable for quieting nerve activity and, by doing so, may help prepare your body for sleep.
Magnesium is readily depleted in the presence of stress which can increase the risk of deficiency (symptoms of which include insomnia and anxiety that can hamper sleep). This may lead to a vicious circle which is widely documented in the scientific literature as deficiency can enhance the body’s susceptibility to stress.
Consuming plenty of magnesium-rich foods is an excellent dietary strategy to help sleep and even more so when experiencing stress and topping it up with a soak in a bath with Healthspan Magnesium Flakes Bath Soak, 1kg, £8.95
|Dairy foods||Tofu||Fortified milk alternatives including soy and nut milks||Dark green leafy vegetables beans|
|Pulses||Dried fruits||Dried spices||Canned fish (salmon, pilchards, anchovies)|
|Squash (butternut, acorn)||Shellfish (clams, lobster, prawns)|
Calcium is required to convert tryptophan to melatonin. A study published in the journal European Neurology has shown that disturbances in sleep, especially during REM, may be related to low calcium levels.
Vitamin D is closely associated with calcium as it is required for the uptake of this mineral. A study published in the journal Plos One has suggested that vitamin D deficiency is linked to shorter sleep duration and that this association is more pronounced in adults over the age of 50 and this could be due to reduced absorption and if you are on certain medications so supplementing is key try (Healthspan Vitamin D3 50 Plus Peppermint Oral Spray). Vitamin D deficiency is common especially during the winter months which is why Public Health England recommend supplementing the diet.
Foods that discourage sleep
We’ve seen how we can eat right to sleep all night. Now we’ll examine some of the foods and drinks that can have a very negative effect on sleep, and these are important to consider if you are struggling to sleep well.
The most common self-medicated sedative is alcohol, but its effect on sleep is tricky and something of a double-edged sword. A bit of alcohol may indeed help you to relax, but even in small amounts, it can cause fragmented sleep. It could be considered an undercover sleep marauder.
Alcohol may encourage a soporific state, but it can have rebound effects, causing you to wake up during the night due to dehydration or the need to visit the bathroom. In some cases, it can also contribute to heartburn.
Alcohol impairs REM sleep which is the restorative part of the sleep cycle, and it also interferes with the flow of calcium into nerve cells, affecting the region of the brain that controls sleep function.
Try cutting alcohol out of your diet if you are having trouble sleeping. If this is tricky, keep it to just a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage and consume a meal a couple of hours before you go to bed.
This is the most apparent sleep marauder as it acts as a stimulant which is why many of us rely on it in the morning to pep us up, ready for the day ahead.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate and acts as a stimulant that blocks the chemicals in the brain that make you sleepy. This compound can linger in the body for 3–5 hours, but the effects can still be seen twelve hours after consumption in some people. Some people metabolise caffeine quicker than others, but if you have trouble sleeping, it is better to avoid food and drinks containing this compound after midday.
Food and nutrition surveys have shown that adults eat twice the recommended six teaspoons of sugar per day. Eating lots of sugar during the day can impact your sleep quality during the night and pull you out of deep sleep. On top of this, sugar reduces the activity of orexin cells, which stimulate parts of the brain that produce dopamine and norepinephrine, which are two hormones that keep us aroused and physically mobile.
If you are struggling to sleep, you really should study your diet and eat right to sleep all night. Planning your diet around whole foods in their most natural state can help to ensure a good intake of essential nutrients while limiting those shown to hamper sleep quality.
If you found Eat right to sleep all night helpful, you’ll find more guidance for sleep disorders on our Health channel.Tags: alcohol, caffeine, calcium, magnesium, Rob Hobson, Sleep, sugar Last modified: January 26, 2022