There are lots of factors that influence sleep, with researchers concluding that what you eat plays a vital role in affecting slumber quality. If you want to sleep better, what foods should you focus on, and which should you avoid?
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The link between food and sleep
How does what you eat affect sleep quality? The nutrients that the body derives from food provide the brain with the necessary chemicals to produce neurotransmitters that aid the sleep process. Essentially, the amino acids that are associated with the sleep process are created from proteins and minerals that come from what we eat. Therefore, if the body is getting the nutrients it needs, it’s creating the right environment to promote good quality sleep.
On the other hand, sleep quality will be diminished if the body isn’t getting adequate nutrients from food to enhance the sleep process. Additionally, if you don’t sleep well and feel tired the next day, you’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices, further enhancing a poor sleep-diet cycle. So, what foods are best for promoting good quality shut-eye?
Experts reckon that you can improve your chances of getting restful sleep by eating a healthy Mediterranean style diet consisting of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, lean protein, legumes, nuts and olive oil.
Studies reveal that people who eat high levels of saturated fat, sugar and processed foods, as well as low fibre, are more likely to experience lighter, less restorative sleep.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that can disturb sleep patterns, but it’s not just a coffee before bedtime that you need to avoid if you want to improve sleep quality. Researchers claim caffeine can linger in your bloodstream for six hours or even longer, so you might want to cut back on caffeinated drinks from the afternoon onwards.
Alcohol is also a stimulant, and while a nightcap might initially make you feel drowsy before bedtime, it can affect your REM cycles later on in the night. This can make you sleep lighter than normal, increasing the risk of broken sleep.
However, avoid going to bed feeling dehydrated as this can reduce the quality of your sleep as well. If you’re thirsty in the night, you might end up with a dry mouth and nasal passages, which can encourage snoring. Dehydration also increases the risk of painful leg cramp in the night. Rather than drinking late in the evening to keep your fluids topped up (which could result in frequent nightly trips to the loo), drink water, decaffeinated drinks or sugar-free juice regularly throughout the day to remain consistently hydrated.
Sleep-friendly food choices
Foods that are spicy, acidic or high in fat should be avoided late in the evening as they can cause indigestion, making it harder to sleep. Ideally, you should leave about four hours or more between eating your evening meal and going to bed. If in doubt, follow the mantra ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper’ to ensure you don’t go to bed feeling stuffed.
Conversely, going to bed feeling hungry won’t do your sleep quality any favours, either. So, if you do want a snack prior to nodding off, choose something light that’s low in fat and sugar, but high in good quality protein.
Experts claim that foods containing sleep-promoting chemicals are a worthy pre-bed snack option, and include bananas, which contain serotonin, turkey, eggs, cheese or milk, which are rich in tryptophan, and berries, which are a good source of sleep-inducing melatonin. Researchers also reveal that kiwi fruits and tart cherries are especially useful for promoting sleep.
Other beneficial snack choices before bed include natural yoghurt, crackers with peanut butter, apple with a slice of cheese, or a milky drink with a little honey.
Bear in mind that food and drink can affect people differently, for example, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others or can tolerate spicy food better than others. Experiment to see which food or drink items help you sleep better, or worse, and keep a diary so you can identify any trends.