There’s a saying that goes We are what we eat, and it’s true. Our food choices determine how healthy we are. If we eat foods that nourish, our health improves, and if we indulge in junk, it takes a nosedive. The same can be said for sleep. Certain foods help us sleep better, and others don’t. There’s research to back this too: a study showed that low-fiber and sugary foods and those with more saturated fat were associated with lighter, less restorative sleep.
It’s no secret that caffeine keeps you up. But it’s not just about having it too close to bedtime; the amount you take throughout the day matters too. Try to limit yourself to about 3-4 cups a day. Caffeine stays in the system for hours, and it takes about 4-6 hours for just half the amount to be eliminated from the body. Even having it 6 hours before bedtime reduces your total sleep time by an hour.
They may taste great but spicy, fatty foods can disrupt sleep and reduce overall sleep time. They can give heartburn, cause coughing and choking, and even cause the body temperature to spike which can hamper sleep quality.
It’s tempting to reach out for a sugar-laden goodie when you need an energy boost, but too much of it can interfere with sleep. That spike in energy quickly crashes and leaves you to feel sleepy. You may then be tempted to wake yourself with a stimulant like caffeine. This see-saw of energy can interrupt your sleep.
Nightcaps seem like the perfect lullaby. After all, they help us fall asleep fast. But this quick sleep-onset soon turns into poor quality sleep. Drinking alcohol at bedtime is linked to slow-wave sleep patterns that enable learning and memory formation. However, it also triggers alpha activity which is the state of being awake with the eyes closed. This clash of functions can lead to waking up in the middle of the night and having breathing problems since alcohol relaxes the muscles of the throat.
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Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s converted into a B vitamin in your body. This vitamin in turns helps create serotonin that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. Foods rich in tryptophan can help promote sleep so if you’re not eating enough, it’s time to. They include poultry, seafood, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, and almonds. Legumes are another good source of tryptophan.
Getting enough tryptophan is just one part of the story; getting it to enter the brain and work its magic is another. Carbohydrates help tryptophan reach the brain more easily by releasing insulin which removes other amino acids from your blood. The path is cleared for tryptophan to make its journey and boost serotonin levels. Of course, you want to include complex carbs in your diet and stay away from the refined stuff as they’re packed with fiber and other nutrients. Try foods like whole grains and whole fruits instead of processed juices.
Some fruits are rich in melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It helps you fall asleep faster and wake up less often at night. Studies show that eating foods rich in melatonin increase melatonin concentration in human serum. What’s more, it boosts immunity and has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. You can get the benefits of melatonin from foods like sour cherry juice, bananas, pineapples, oranges, almonds, walnuts, and oats.
Known for its soothing and mildly tranquilizing effects, chamomile tea may help you fall asleep faster. It contains the flavonoid apigenin that binds to receptors in the brain that induce sleep. You should stay away from it if you’re on blood-thinning medication, however, as it increases the risk of bleeding.
What you eat affects how well you sleep but even your meal timings matter. Eating too close to bedtime can cause a queasy tummy that can make sleeping difficult. It can also lead to weird and disturbing dreams. Your last big meal should be 2 to 3 hours before bed. If you feel hungry later, you can have a piece of fruit like a banana or a peach.
Food drives not only your health but your sleep. The next time you find yourself tempted to enjoy another cup of coffee or chow down on a heavy, fatty meal, ask yourself – is it worth a good night’s sleep?