How do foods affect your sleep?
The food you eat may be having a bigger impact than you realise on your sleep patterns. Whether it’s a one off binge or persistent bad habits, your sleep could be suffering at the hands of the food you eat. Here I discuss what foods can work for a good night’s sleep and what ones you may be better off avoiding if you want some good quality shut-eye. There are a number of reasons why the food you eat can affect your sleep patterns so a quick overview is as follows:
Foods can affect your digestion – After stress and worry, digestive complaints are amongst one of the main reasons people struggle to sleep at night. If you have IBS, it’s important to keep a food diary in order to try and indentify any food triggers, as discomfort and changing bowel habits aren’t going to create a calming sleep environment, that’s for sure! Fatty and high protein foods can leave your stomach feeling particularly full and uncomfortable as we’ll go on to discuss. As well as what you eat, how you eat can impact your digestion too. Some top tips include chewing your food properly and eating slower – some mindful eating means you’re much more likely to actually enjoy your meals, plus you’ll want to eat less, bonus! Overeating can be problematic at the time, but in the long term weight gain can make symptoms such as acid reflux more likely to crop up too.
Foods can affect your hormones – We know that certain foods and drinks can affect our hormones. We have insulin responses to contend with that affect our blood sugar levels, then hormones and neurotransmitters important for sleep include inhibitory or calming neurotransmitters such as GABA, melatonin and adenosine which are vital for helping you to nod off.
Foods can affect your nervous system – Foods can affect your nervous system too. At night, we want our parasympathetic nervous system to be dominant as this helps us enter our ‘rest and digest’ phase. If foods or drinks fire up our sympathetic nervous system instead then we get launched into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our chances of sleeping are slim.
Sleepy food musts
From warm milk to midnight snacks – are there really foods that can help support our sleep?
Whittling out the facts from the old wives tales here I run through some of the best foods to incorporate before settling down for the night!
Foods naturally high in nutrients are a top pick in the lead up to bed time and bananas tick all the boxes. Bananas are especially high in potassium and magnesium. Magnesium helps support relaxation and it is also an important nutrient for helping the body to produce the hormone in charge of supporting your circadian rhythms – melatonin.
Oats are a firm favourite for sleepy heads and there’s good reason for this! Oats are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that support the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. One of great importance is tryptophan. The amino acid tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin so an extra dose is often beneficial! Oats also have a moderate glycaemic index, especially when compared to other cereal products which often have lots of hidden added sugar. More stable blood sugar levels will support the parasympathetic nervous system and allow for a calmer night’s sleep.
To get your daily dosage of oats, and help your sleep, I'd recommend Rude Health Sprouted Porridge Oats. These are full of nutirents and fibre, plus they're completely organic and glueten free!
Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin – tart cherries that is, rather than the sweet variety. Therefore, cherry juice is a great way to obtian this melatonin in order to better support your sleep-wake cycle. I'd recommend trying CherryActive Montmorency Cherry Juice Concentrate as, with no added sugars or sweetners, it provides maximum melatonin.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, low in carbs and high in the amino acid tryptophan, you’ll struggle to find a better ingredient to help support your sleep! Just Natural Organic Pumpkin Seeds make a great snack or an unusual addtion to your evening meal – I love pumpkin seeds toasted, they are super tasty with a great texture.
Cinnamon has traditionally been used to help regulate wobbly blood sugar levels. If your evening meal doesn’t tide you over until morning or you wake up feeling anxious, it could be sign that your blood sugar levels need some support. A tasty and easy way to get some cinnamon into your diet is to mix up to one teaspoon of Lucy Bee Organic Cinanamon Powder into your porridge.
We are gradually learning more as to how supporting your gut can help support your sleep and fermented foods are the perfect option. Fermenting foods with lactic acid producing bacteria (LAB) have also been shown to make GABA more biologically available1 – perfectly calming! From sauerkraut to appealing condiments such as your very own fermented tomato ketchup, add a dose of fermented foods to your evening meal and nodding off later could become a whole lot easier.
Sleepy food don’ts
As well as some good foods to include, there are also some elements of your diet which could affect both the quantity and quality of your sleep. Let’s discuss some of those to watch:
When it comes to sugar, carbs and sleep it can be a bit of a vicious cycle! Cereal bars are often full of sugar, refined carbs and not much else. Sweet treats and carbs will only cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then quickly crash again, as insulin works hard to sweep all the glucose away into your tissues.
In turn, wobbly blood levels can affect our sleep. You might find you struggle to sleep as a result of low blood sugar making you feel hungry, or feelings of anxiety may become apparent as your sympathetic nervous system gets fired up. So, the misuse of carbs could affect our sleep, but actually too little sleep can also affect your need (or want) for carbs! Research has shown that poor sleep makes you hungrier for carbs the next day2 – mostly de-energising empty carbs that is – the very type that are going to upset your blood sugar further. Opt for complex carbohydrates instead and use the rest of your personalised 6 day plan to work on your sleep quality, in order to help keep those carb cravings at bay.
Foods high in fat take longer to empty from your stomach. That’s why overindulging in fatty or fried foods, especially when eating them too near to bed time, can be detrimental. You can be left feeling full, uncomfortable and find you may have trouble drifting off. Not only that, but we also know that saturated fats (as well as refined sugars as mentioned above) can actually affect the quality of your sleep. So even if you drift off, once you’re asleep, your deep slow-wave sleep (the good quality sleep that’s vital for repair and regeneration) can become reduced3. No wonder you’re often left feeling a little dishevelled the next day! Stick to healthier plant-based sources of fat in the evening, and avoid eating anything too heavy close to bed time.
It seems that salt could also be impacting on your sleep. Research has shown that salty snacks can interrupt your circadian rhythm and may even trigger palpitations at night4 – another reason you may find your sleep is disturbed – not good! Stick to cooking from fresh so you can control the salt content and opt for unsalted nuts and seed varieties instead.
So, hopefully that’s given you some ideas for some sleepy sustenance! For now we’ve only really covered foods, but stay tuned as we cover more on drinks later in your personalised 6 day sleep plan!
These foods are great in helping you drift off to the land of nod and ensure you get a good nights rest!
1Selhub EM et a. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practive meets nutritional psychiatry. J Physiol Anthropol, 2014, 33(1), doi: 10.1186/1880-6805-33-2
2Nedeltcheva AV et al. Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. Am J Clin Nutr, 2009, 89, (126-133)
3. St-Onge MP et al. Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. J Clin Sleep Med, 2016, 12(1), (19-24)
4. Helenslee EA et al. Rhythmic potassium transport regulates the circadian clock in human red blood cells, Nature communications, 2017 DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02161-4