Been having trouble sleeping lately? Well, research investigating how to sleep better shows that you may be tossing and turning at night because of what you’re eating during the day.
Commit to some simple changes to your meals and snacks and you could see a big difference in your sleep.
By now, it’s not news that sleep is important for better health and better brain function. But despite what we know about the need for adequate sleep, many of us seem to keep pushing the limits of how little sleep we can get by with.
And on top of that, aside from just staying up too late, plenty of Americans report problems falling asleep and staying asleep.
America’s Sleep Deficit is Affecting Health
Research shows that at least one out of three of us don’t get enough sleep (at least seven hours per night). The health problems related to this lack of sleep include gaining too much weight, developing diabetes, suffering from high blood pressure, an increased risk for stroke, as well as a bigger chance of heart disease along with mental struggles like anxiety.1
Plus, according to research at MIT, lack of sleep even affects how you walk. Their study, performed on college students, shows that what seems like an automatic activity, like walking, becomes less graceful and clumsier if you don’t get enough sleep.2
But there’s simple, effective help available for the sleep impaired. It starts in your kitchen…
How What You Eat Affects Your Sleep
Studies now pinpoint one of the chief villains for ruining sleep: Eating too much processed food. Consuming a diet heavy in foods that are low on fiber and high in sugar and additives, along with the unhealthy fats contained in fast foods, can ruin sleep. This kind of eating ruins your health, too!
On the other hand, as these tests show, eating more fruits, vegetables, and nuts – foods that are rich in dietary fiber – makes for better slumber.
A study at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, performed on 26 people whose average age was 35, confirms this. It shows that eating meals of processed food during the day causes lighter, less regenerative sleep that is restless and disrupted during the night.
But when the same subjects consumed high fiber foods, those meals sent the study participants into increased deep, refreshing, slow wave sleep.3
“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” says researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD. “It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”
That bears repeating… a single day of healthy eating can help you sleep better. If that’s not motivation to make healthier dietary choices today, I don’t know what is.
Beware of Unhealthy Eating Brought on By Lack of Sleep
Unfortunately, eating a lot of overly processed, sugary, fiber-less foods can not only ruin your sleep and cause you to sleep less, but your resulting sleep deficit will make it harder to stop eating those unhealthy foods.
A study at the University of Chicago shows that sleeping too little stimulates chemical signals in the body that make you crave extra sugary, salty junk foods like cookies, chips, and candy.
The chemical signal that puts you into junk food mode has the tongue twisting name endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Under normal circumstances, your blood level of 2-AG is low at night and high in the afternoon. But missing out on sleep causes your level of 2-AG to stay elevated into the late evening hours. The result? Increased hunger and stronger urges to make a late-night raid on the refrigerator that can threaten your health and waistline.4
To avoid this type of troubling, self-reinforcing cycle, ditch the processed food.
The Amino Acid that Helps You Sleep
Now, for as long as I can remember, folks have maintained that one of the main reasons you get sleepy after a heavy Thanksgiving meal is the amino acid tryptophan that is found in turkey meat.
And it’s true that when tryptophan gets into your brain it’s one of the ingredients the body uses to make serotonin which, in turn, gets made into the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. However, to get across the blood-brain barrier into brain tissue, tryptophan is in competition with the other amino acids (protein building blocks) in the meal that can latch onto the same brain barrier-crossing receptors.
But you can give tryptophan a leg up in this competitive journey by eating healthy carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) along with tryptophan rich foods like poultry, tuna, milk, and cheese. The carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin which diverts the other amino acids into muscle tissue.5
The overall lesson of all these studies I’ve mentioned is that if you find yourself frequently tossing and turning after you’re in bed, you should try eating fewer processed foods and switch over to sleep-friendly fruits and vegetables.
And a glass of milk in the evening may also help you sleep. Along with containing tryptophan, research performed in Asia shows that milk includes peptides that alleviate stress and may also enhance sleep.6
So, it appears that many folks who swear by drinking a warm cup of milk before bed to relax are really onto something.
- https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html#:~:text=More than a third of,Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.