Best Diet For Healthy Sleep

Best Diet For Healthy Sleep

It’s common knowledge that what you eat at night before going to bed can impact how well you sleep. After all, eating a heavy, late-night meal or drinking caffeinated products could lead to a miserable night of hardly any sleep or no sleep at all.

However, it’s just not about what you eat at night. What you eat during the day can also affect the quality of your sleep at night, according to Erica Jansen, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan.

Jansen, a nutritional epidemiologist, said a growing amount of evidence shows that your overall dietary patterns can affect sleep quality and contribute to sleep disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that stops you from breathing normally while you sleep.

To make matters worse, people in the United States are having problems getting quality sleep because of “eating far too much fatty and processed food, too little fiber and too few fruits and vegetables,” Jansen wrote in an article for The Conversation.

To further understand the possible relationship between sleep and diet in American adults 18 and older, Jansen, who is trained to look at diets at the population level and how they affect health, conducted studies with her colleagues.

Jansen said in one study, she and her colleagues looked at whether people who follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans get more hours of sleep. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture work together to update and release the dietary guidelines every five years.
The investigators used a nationally representative dataset of surveys collected from 2011 to 2016 and found that people who did not follow dietary recommendations, such as eating enough servings of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, had shorter sleep duration.

In another study, the research team followed more than 1,000 people 21-30 years old, who were participating in a web-based dietary intervention study focused on helping them increase their daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The team discovered that participants who increased their fruit and vegetable consumption over three months reported better sleep quality and fewer insomnia symptoms.

The group also conducted studies outside of the United States. Jansen said she and her colleagues—as well as others researching the same topic—discovered that better sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms are associated with a healthier overall diet.

One diet that provides multiple health benefits and sleep quality, Jansen said, is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant foods, olive oil, and seafood, and low in red meat and added sugars. Similarly, anti-inflammatory foods, such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fatty fish, and nuts also contribute to getting a restful night’s sleep.

Foods and Nutrients Linked To Better Sleep Quality

Some foods are not only healthy but they also affect sleep because they produce melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle in the brain.

According to Jansen, foods that can contribute to a higher-quality sleep include:

    • Fiber-rich foods, such as beans and oatmeal
    • Poultry, especially turkey and chicken, and other foods high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps to make melatonin and serotonin, a natural chemical the body produces to help regulate appetite, sleep, and mood.
    • Fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and sardines
    • Dairy
    • Kiwi fruit
    • Tart cherries
    • Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries

Other nutrients that can impact sleep quality include:

    • Iron
    • Magnesium
    • Manganese
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Vitamin D

Foods and Beverages to Avoid

Just as there are healthy foods that support sleep, certain foods and beverages could be bad for sleep. Jansen recommends avoiding the following culprits:

    • Saturated fats. These fats are found in foods, such as burgers, fries, and processed foods. Saturated fats can lead to less slow-wave sleep, considered the most restorative sleep.

    • Refined carbohydrates. The body quickly breaks down refined carbohydrates, resulting in feeling hungry soon after a meal. Refined carbohydrates are found in foods such as white bread and pasta.

    • Alcohol. Alcohol promotes a calming effect that induces sleep. However, it disrupts sleep patterns by reducing the amount of Rapid Eye Movement sleep that occurs in the first part of the night and leads to more night awakenings.

    • Caffeine. Caffeine, especially when taken at least six hours before going to bed, keeps you awake because it blocks the hormone adenosine, which promotes sleepiness.

    • Consuming too many calories. This can result in putting on weight which can trigger obstructive sleep apnea. Excess weight can place more pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, and cause a narrower airway if fat accumulates around the neck and throat.

Other Factors Can Affect Sleep Quality

According to Jansen, it’s not only food that can disrupt sleep but toxicants found in food and food packaging play a role, too. Jansen said she and her colleagues discovered that toxicants like pesticides, mercury, and phthalates, are found in both healthy and unhealthy foods. Their research suggests “that some foods can contain a mix of components that are both beneficial and harmful for sleep.”

One question researchers would like to answer is: “Does sleep affect your diet or does diet affect your sleep?”

“It’s hard to know whether the association is a result of diet affecting sleep, or sleep affecting diet,” Jansen wrote. “The reality is that it is likely a cyclical relationship, where a healthy diet promotes good sleep quality, which in turn helps to reinforce good dietary habits.”

Another link discovered between good sleep and a healthy diet is the timing and consistency of eating, Jansen said. In the United States, eating at conventional meal times (typically considered times from breakfast to dinner) rather than random snacking has been associated with better sleep. On the other hand, eating processed snacks and other unhealthy foods late at night may lead to repeated sleep interruptions.

Gender, which Jansen described as an “interesting piece of this puzzle,” plays a role in the link between diet and sleep. This could be due to studies showing insomnia symptoms are potentially stronger among women than men, Jansen said. More than one in four women in the United States experience insomnia, compared with fewer than one in five men, according to the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

When it comes to sleep, what is just as important as avoiding certain foods is establishing good sleep hygiene practices, such as turning off mobile phones, computers, and other technology, reducing light exposure, and “creating a comfortable and relaxing environment for sleep.”

“Moreover, allowing enough time to sleep and maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake time is essential,” Jansen wrote.

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