Let’s face it – we’re not at our best if we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, and sometimes that can be hard to come by. There are a number of factors that can keep us up at night. A really approachable way to ensure that you’re maximizing the quality of your sleep is by taking a look at what you eat every day.
So you’re saying what I eat affects how I sleep?
Nutrition makes up a key pillar of support when it comes to getting more and better sleep. There isn’t a specific meal plan that will guarantee you a solid night’s sleep, but eating a balanced diet full of colourful, leafy vegetables, healthy fats and proteins is a good place to start.
That being said, there are specific vitamins and minerals that have a particular impact on how you sleep at night. Prioritizing your intake of these nutrients is a great way to round out your diet for better sleep.
First, let’s talk about what a good night’s sleep looks like, and what it means when that gets interrupted.
Understanding our circadian rhythm
Our circadian rhythm acts as our internal clock that makes sure we wake up and fall asleep every day. It’s impacted by natural and artificial light, and prompts energy and alertness throughout the day. A healthy circadian rhythm will produce melatonin, a hormone that tells your body when it’s time to sleep, when it’s dark out. This will induce sleepiness, and ideally we’ll sleep soundly through the night. When our circadian rhythm gets disrupted, we experience poor sleep.How can my diet negatively impact my sleep cycle?
Overindulgence in caffeine
Coffee or tea is a great way to give yourself a jolt of energy first thing in the morning, but if caffeine is consumed too close to bedtime, it can keep you awake at night. For the average adult, caffeine has a half-life of roughly 6 hours, which means that it takes that amount of time to completely clear your system.
Too many desserts full of refined sugar
Dessert is most often considered the last meal of the day. This means it’s an opportunity to make a smart choice that will impact how you sleep at night.
Enjoying a sweet treat full of refined sugar close to bedtime may cause your blood sugar to spike. This leads to the pancreas releasing insulin, which in turn delivers blood sugar to our body’s cells so it can be used for energy. On top of this, high sugar intake can lead to magnesium deficiency, which is a nutrient required to metabolize sugar.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet at the end of the day, reach for something fibrous or protein packed, like fruit with nut butter, greek yogurt, or naturally sweetened chia pudding.
Poorly timed meals
When you eat also has an impact on your sleep quality. Emerging research has shown that the release of insulin that occurs after you ingest food may disrupt the circadian rhythm. This is because insulin stimulates the production of a specific protein called PERIOD, which is vital to the maintenance of circadian sequencing within cells.
Consuming a large meal close to bedtime can also be disruptive to your sleep. Aim to eat your last large meal of the day at least 3 hours before you plan to go to bed.
How can my diet lead to better quality sleep?
There are specific nutrients in your diet which will enhance your sleeping patterns. Prioritizing these foods in your diet is a great way to make sure your nutrient levels are primed for a good night’s sleep.
Reach for magnesium-rich foods
One of the most common factors that keeps us awake at night is a racing mind. Believe it or not, this can sometimes be chalked up to low levels of magnesium due to its role in melatonin production.
If you have trouble turning your thoughts off at bedtime, magnesium can help relax your mind and better prepare your body for sleep. Magnesium can be found in foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. It’s also a great nutrient to take in supplement form.
A little more zinc doesn’t hurt
You may know about zinc because of the vital role it plays in our immune health, but studies have shown that zinc deficiency is often linked to low melatonin levels. Not only does zinc play a role in the production of melatonin, it also helps produce melatonin’s precursor, serotonin. Foods that are rich in zinc include grass-fed beef, Brazil nuts, cashews, dark chocolate, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.
Fill up on melatonin boosters
Although melatonin is a hormone that is produced within the body, it also occurs naturally in certain foods. Adding tart cherries, eggs, goji berries, fish, milk, pistachios, and almonds to your routine is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of this vital sleep hormone. Bonus points if you double down on magnesium and melatonin!
Feel the difference
If you’re someone who struggles to fall asleep at bedtime, or wakes up throughout the night, take a look at how you’re eating. Making simple adjustments to your nutritional intake is an approachable way to tackle sleep issues, and you’ll definitely feel the difference.
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