November 12, 2021 4 min read
Getting a consistent 7 to 8.5 hours of sleep every night is crucial for your health. A huge body of research shows that a lack of sleep impacts both your physical and mental health. Still, many people find themselves struggling to get the recommended amount of sleep.
If you’re looking to sleep better, one factor to consider is what you’re eating. Here are four ways that you may be able to use nutrition to improve your sleep.
1. Balance carbohydrates
With carbohydrates, the key is balance – not too much, not too little. On the one hand, sugary foods and beverages can disrupt your sleep. Many studies have shown a link between sleep problems and high sugar consumption, especially sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and energy drinks. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting processed sugars in your diet, especially close to bedtime.
At the same time, some studies have shown that sleep problems can be a side effect of a very low carbohydrate diet (such as the keto diet). Eating few to no carbohydrates is linked to a reduction in REM sleep, which is the dreaming phase of sleep. REM sleep is crucial for brain health. If you’ve recently switched to keto and you’re finding yourself having trouble sleeping, you might want to try adding a few carbs back into your diet, especially in the evening.
2. Time your meals
The timing of meals can have a significant impact on sleep as well. If you eat a big meal too close to bedtime, then it’s likely to interfere with your sleep. The blood flow to the digestive system normally decreases at night, and so a big meal will take a long time to digest, leading to bloating, acid reflux (heartburn), and other discomfort that can disrupt your sleep. Try to avoid eating a large meal close to bedtime, especially if it contains spicy or very fatty foods.
However, this doesn’t mean that fasting for hours before bedtime is a good idea either. Hunger tends to disrupt sleep, as it interferes with hormonal signals in the brain. Going to bed hungry often leads to waking repeatedly throughout the night, or waking very early and being unable to fall back asleep. To remedy this, try a small snack about an hour before bedtime. Ideally, it should be something simple to digest (mostly carbs) and not too large. Besides preventing you from being awakened by hunger, a carbohydrate-containing snack may also help your brain to produce tryptophan, which is an amino acid that promotes sleep.
3. Limit caffeine and alcohol later in the day
Although some people worry that their caffeine habit is unhealthy, the truth is that caffeine is safe and healthy in moderate amounts. At the same time, consuming caffeine too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. The general rule is to stop caffeine consumption at least six hours before bedtime, although some people may need even longer for the caffeine to leave their system.
Alcohol also affects sleep. Although it may make you feel tired and might even help you fall asleep, alcohol also interferes with the quality of sleep. This means that the sleep that you get will not be restful and restorative, and your health will suffer. As a general rule of thumb, avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime, to give your body time to finish processing the alcohol.
4. Try specific sleep-promoting foods
Studies have shown a link between vitamin and mineral deficiencies and disrupted sleep. Eating a variety of foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, is important for healthy sleep. In addition, research has found a few specific foods that seem to be beneficial for promoting sleep. These include:
One study showed that eating kiwi every day improved sleep in study participants. This may be related to the antioxidants, folate, and other vitamins present in the fruit, in which case it’s likely that other fruits and vegetables would also help with sleep.
Tart cherry. Two studies showed that drinking tart cherry juice twice per day improved sleep. Interestingly, the juice of other types of cherries didn’t seem to have a similar effect. It’s not yet clear why tart cherries may have a unique ability to promote sleep.
Some studies have indicated that drinking milk at bedtime has a sleep-promoting effect. It’s not clear why this may be, but it might be related to the presence of melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone) and tryptophan in the milk.
Fatty fish (such as salmon). The omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D both help to regulate serotonin, which is important in sleep regulation.
The results of studies on these specific foods have been mixed; for example, some studies showed a beneficial effect of milk at bedtime, while others didn’t. Additionally, many healthy foods simply haven’t been tested to see whether or not they improve sleep, so this list is certainly not exhaustive. However, if you’re working to optimize your sleep, it might be worth giving these foods a try.
Good sleep is crucial for wellnessIf you’re seeking optimal health and wellbeing, it’s essential that you optimize your sleep. Paying attention to your nutrition is one way to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, and to ensure that you’re getting high-quality sleep that will restore your body and brain. If you choose to make good sleep a priority, you’ll see benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health.