The link between diet and sleep
Quality sleep is linked to numerous health benefits. It is known to boost immunity, promote healthy weight, strengthen the heart, improve mood, enhance physical performance, and bolster memory, just to name a few. One way to ensure a great night’s sleep is to eat well. When and what we eat helps determine how quickly we fall asleep and how soundly we sleep. It’s no surprise, then, that good eating habits and good food choices promote overall health in more ways than one.
Timing is as important as substance
Simply adding certain foods to the menu will have minimal effect on sleep improvement. If you eat at unfavorable times, or just add a few sleep-improving foods to a menu that includes sleep-deterring foods, you’re likely to see little or no improvement at all. First, look for ways to tweak your current dietary routine.
Certain foods can disrupt sleep
Overall, a healthy diet leads to healthy sleep patterns. A balanced diet that is high in fiber, low in added sugar and saturated fats, and includes lean proteins is known to promote quality sleep. Pizza, burgers, and ice cream don’t have to go away completely. Just avoid heavy, rich, and spicy foods in the last four to six hours before bedtime, especially if you have a history of heartburn or acid reflux. These foods make the digestive system work harder when it should be in a rest mode.
It may be obvious that caffeine before bedtime works against sleep patterns. Although it affects everyone differently, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, consider cutting off caffeine intake around lunch time. Not just coffee and cola — don’t forget hidden caffeine sources: Energy drinks, some flavors of ice cream, decaf coffee, and even some pain killers hide traces of the stimulant.
Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it doesn’t promote healthy sleep. Drinking right up to bedtime leads to restless sleep, as well as the potential for dehydration and headaches. No need to give up alcohol altogether, though. For improved sleep, drink in moderation, cut off alcohol a few hours before bedtime, and drink water while you are enjoying adult beverages.
Sleep and diet is a two-way street. A healthy diet promotes quality sleep, and quality sleep keeps us on track with healthy eating. If your sleep pattern is off, chances are your eating schedule is off, too. Eating a large dinner too close to bedtime may contribute to restlessness or insomnia. Try eating dinner earlier, at least four hours before sleep, or making breakfast the big meal of the day. Eating a light snack of complex carbohydrates before bed may help, as well.
Eat foods that promote healthy sleep patterns
If your diet and eating schedule seem about right, consider working some of these foods and drinks into your pre-bedtime routine.
Do cashews help you sleep? Nuts such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts can help to promote sleep. They contain traces of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and other nutrients that help with a variety of body processes. Other good sources of melatonin are tart cherry juice, bananas, and oatmeal.
Eat kiwi and sleep better. These humble green fruits contain serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and mood. Pineapple is another natural source of ready-made serotonin.
Turkey makes you sleep. Actually, turkey contains significant levels of tryptophan. The human body uses tryptophan to manufacture sleep and mood-regulating serotonin. Other foods that supply tryptophan include eggs, salmon, nuts, and dairy products.
Drink herbal tea and fall asleep faster. Chamomile tea and passion flower tea have long been recommended as powerful herbal sleep aids. While the science is lagging to back up the claims, generations of herbal tea drinkers attest to the relaxing effects.
Sleep is an important but complicated part of life that is connected to everything else we do. Diet plays a major role, and food choices can help. Try incorporating some of these sleep-inducing foods and drinks into a light snack a few hours before bed. And, don’t neglect the other areas of life, including exercise, stress, and other health issues that may be contributing to sleeplessness.
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