Trouble sleeping is becoming more and more widespread these days, with as many as 68% of Americans reporting they struggle to sleep at least once a week. Whether this is due to stress, the ongoing pandemic, or other factors, this can be a very pestering problem. The solution, however, can be easier than you’d think. Just a few tweaks in your diet could lead to a better night’s sleep, according to experts.
Though no particular food is a magic cure, there is a definite link to the food and drinks we consume during the day and the quality of our sleep. ‘Sufficient’ sleep will vary from person to person – some people need as much as 10 hours while others require as little as six. Many experts define sleep as ‘good’ simply if it results in you waking up feeling rested. Here are a few nutrition tips that will help you achieve that coveted feeling.
1. Keep track of your melatonin and tryptophan consumption
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘sleep hormone’. “Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of circadian rhythms and with sleep,” explained dietitian nutritionist Shana Minei.
Although it’s a naturally produced hormone, you can also increase levels of melatonin by consuming foods that are rich in it. Those include almonds, fish, and cherries, to name a few. Tryptophan, an amino acid that increases the production of melatonin can also be attained through food. It is most commonly associated with turkey meat, but it can also be found in foods like cottage cheese and plain yogurt.
If you’re consuming a large portion of melatonin-rich foods, it is recommended to do so at least an hour or 30 minutes before going to bed, as it is the amount of time it takes for melatonin to have an effect on the body.
2. Opt for whole foods rich in fiber, and avoid processed foods
Whole foods packed with fiber have a myriad of health benefits, and one of them is keeping your stomach happy at night. Complex carbohydrates that are slow-digesting help keep the body balanced and settle the digestive system. Legumes, squash, quinoa, and buckwheat are all good examples of such food.
On the other hand, processed carbs and foods that contain mich added sugar such as bread, cereals, muffins, and cookies prompt a short-term spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash. When blood sugar levels drop sharply adrenalin, glucagon, and cortisol are released to regulate blood glucose levels. All of these hormones can act as stimulants, causing you to sleep less restfully or struggle to fall asleep.
3. Time your meals correctly
It isn’t just what you eat, but when you eat it, too. “Allow two hours or more between your last bite of food and bed, no matter what you choose to eat, and one hour before when it comes to beverages,” is the advice of Kylene Bogden, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and wellness adviser.
Moreover, try to space out your meals four to five hours apart so your body has time to digest the food.
4. Stay away from sugar and caffeine
We aren’t saying that you should cut out coffee and chocolate from your life completely, that could be an extremely difficult task for some of us, but try to restrict those indulgences to the first half of the day. Since it takes the body about six hours to metabolize caffeine, drinking or eating foods with caffeine is not recommended within several hours before lights out.
We must note decaffeinated beverages aren’t a good substitute, as they still contain stimulants that can disrupt your sleep. The same is true for sugar, which gives the body a temporary energy boost and should be avoided up to 6 hours before you go to bed.
5. Drink a caffeine-free hot beverage in the evening
The sleep benefits of a ‘glass of warm milk’ aren’t entirely a myth. Drinking a warm caffeine-free beverage in the evening can indeed do wonders to your quality of sleep.
Chamomile tea is a good option, as it was also found to reduce anxiety in humans. Another recommended drink is golden milk – turmeric-based almond milk with dates, as a sweetener. Turmeric is a powerful, anti-inflammatory spice that promotes a sense of calm and aids in digestion, thereby enhancing sleep quality. While golden milk can also be made with regular cow’s milk, experts strongly recommend opting for a plant-based milk variety, as cow’s milk can be inflammatory for some people (bloating really isn’t optimal for sleeping).
6. Keep spicy food at a minimum
Spicy dishes can be irritating as they work their way through your digestive system, which can result in discomfort or even pain, as the food moves through your gastrointestinal tract.
If you’re a fan of spicy food, you can still have your favorite dishes, but perhaps not as the last meal of the day. If you want some spice in your dinner, experts recommend to bring it to a minimum and not make it the dominant feature of the meal, as to not compromise your sleep.