Your body needs sleep to regulate emotions, fight off infection, and heal from daily use and stress. If you’re struggling to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep, what you eat and when you eat it could be part of the problem. The right food choices (and meal timing) help fuel your body with the nutrients needed for better (and more) sleep.
Food’s Effects on Falling and Staying Asleep
Have you ever eaten fast food late at night and suffered for it all night long? Those high fat, heavy foods slow digestion and can cause sleep-disrupting heartburn and indigestion. However, more than these unhealthy foods can keep you awake.
Caffeine and alcohol are common sleep disruptors too. Caffeine’s effects are no secret as everyone’s felt the buzz of one too many cups of coffee. Stopping your intake in the early afternoon usually prevents sleep problems.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is often forgotten because initially, it makes you drowsy. Its effects don’t hit until late in the sleep cycle. A few hours after you fall asleep, alcohol causes the body to spend more time in stage 1 sleep, the lightest of the sleep stages. Consequently, night waking is far more likely and frequent if you’ve consumed alcohol.
Meal Timing Makes a Difference
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat it that affects sleep. Your sleep cycle is controlled by the body’s circadian rhythms, which rely, amongst other factors, on meal timing, to correctly time the sleep cycle.
A 2017 study explored the effects of 5-hour changes in meal timing on the body’s circadian rhythms. It was found that a delayed meal time altered blood sugar levels, which delayed the signals necessary to start the sleep cycle. However, when participants evenly spaced their meals and ate at approximately the same time each day, their sleep schedules followed a normal, predictable pattern.
Sleep-Promoting Foods and Better Sleep Habits
You’ve already got an idea of the kinds of foods and eating habits that can hinder your sleep cycle, but there are also foods that can help. Foods that contain some of the following nutrients can put you on the right track.
- Melatonin: Tart cherries top this list with their natural concentration of melatonin. A 2010 study found that tart cherry juice shortened the time it took to fall asleep and reduced night wakings.
- Tryptophan: Turkey is famous for tryptophan but it’s not the only food that contains this sleep promoter. Bananas, honey, nuts, and eggs are also good sources. Dairy products are too and they contain calcium, which is also used to produce sleep hormones.
Diet aside, you also need to have healthy sleep habits in place, such as:
- A regular bedtime on both weekdays and weekends.
- A relaxing bedtime routine to help trigger the start of your sleep cycle. (Before beginning the routine, make sure you have all your medical equipment or nighttime supplies next to your bed.)
- De-stress with gentle yoga or meditation. For those who struggle with nighttime wakefulness, be prepared with a meditation app on your phone or book (the real thing, not a screen) on the nightstand. With a plan in place, it’s often easier to get back to sleep.
Sleep and diet intersect, with each influencing the other. Healthy eating habits feed a strong sleep cycle. And, with adequate sleep, you’re left with a clear mind and balanced body to make better choices about all aspects of your life.
This article has been republished from the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation blog.