Can Our Diet Improve Our Sleep?

Diet and sleep are closely linked. 

Your diet and food intake can promote healthy sleep or can lead to sleep problems and disrupted sleep.

Find out which foods you should include in your diet to get a better night’s sleep and which foods you should cut out to avoid sleep disturbance.

Can Our Diet Improve Our Sleep?

Your diet impacts all aspects of your health, including sleep. Certain foods can promote a good night’s sleep, while others might interfere with your sleep quality and sleep duration.

Getting good sleep can help you feel more alert and improve your mood. There is a lot more to good sleep than meets the eye, though. Sleep deprivation is linked with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and obesity.

If you’re having trouble getting good sleep, you might want to take a closer look at your eating habits. Improving your diet might help you get better rest while also promoting your overall health and wellness.

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Tips to improve your sleep through lifestyle habits

Your diet is one of many sleep hygiene habits that can help you get more restful sleep. 

Avoid caffeine, especially later in the day

Many people consume caffeine regularly, sometimes several times per day. Caffeine is a stimulant and creates a feeling of alertness and can disrupt sleep.

Adenosine is a substance that promotes sleepiness. Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor agonist, meaning it blocks the action of adenosine, helping to keep you awake.

The average half-life of caffeine is five hours. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the substance (in this case, caffeine) to be cleared from your system. 

If you drink a triple-shot latte at 8 AM, about half the amount of caffeine would still be present around 1 PM. If you have caffeine later in the day, a majority could still be circulating in your system at bedtime.

Be wary of certain teas

You might think of tea as low in caffeine compared to coffee. This is true for some types of tea, but many types of tea contain caffeine. 

Green tea, black tea, pu-erh tea, and oolong tea all contain caffeine and can keep you from getting good quality sleep if you consume too much, or if you drink them too late in the day.

Keep fluid intake lower in the evening

If you drink a lot of fluids shortly before bedtime, you’re more likely to wake up several times to use the restroom. Waking up often can disrupt restful REM sleep, and you might not be able to fall back asleep as easily as you want to.

Aim to drink fluids consistently throughout the day instead of waiting until the end of the day to catch up on your hydration goals.

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8 foods and drinks to include in your diet 

1. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to hormones like serotonin and melatonin. Certain foods are rich in tryptophan and may help promote better sleep by increasing levels of melatonin. 

Melatonin is a hormone produced in your brain. Darkness stimulates your brain to make melatonin, and light slows the production of melatonin. 

Foods rich in tryptophan (precursor to melatonin) include:

  • Poultry: You’ve probably heard the belief that you get sleepy after eating Thanksgiving dinner because of the tryptophan in turkey. You likely feel tired because you ate a large meal, but the tryptophan in poultry may also play a role in promoting sleep. Chicken is also high in tryptophan, which is why the American Sleep Association recommends it as a food to promote sleep.

  • Eggs: Eggs are rich in tryptophan. Egg yolks are the richest in tryptophan compared to the whites, so be sure not to throw out the yolks if you want to use eggs to promote better sleep.

  • Cheese: Cheese is rich in tryptophan. According to a food database powered by USDA data, cottage cheese, hard mozzarella, and cheddar cheese contain the most tryptophan compared to other types of cheese.

  • Milk: Warm milk before bedtime is an old remedy for good sleep. Milk is naturally rich in tryptophan, helping to synthesize serotonin and melatonin in your body. Whole milk has more tryptophan than lower-fat milk.

  • Tuna: One can of tuna contains more tryptophan than a pound of raw turkey. 

  • Tofu: A great protein alternative for vegetarians and vegans, tofu is a great source of tryptophan and may help boost low serotonin levels.

  • Yogurt: Fermented foods like yogurt contain probiotics, which are live cultures that help feed the colony of healthy gut bacteria. Gut bacteria play a large role in serotonin production by making over 95% of your body’s serotonin. Probiotics in yogurt may also help increase the availability of serotonin in the gut. 

Tryptophan also helps make serotonin, a hormone that can promote healthy sleep. 

Low levels of serotonin are associated with insomnia. Once serotonin levels are improved, sleep quality tends to also improve. 

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that helps promote relaxation and can lessen the symptoms of anxiety. If you feel relaxed and less anxious at bedtime, you’re more likely to have better sleep quality.

According to a study, magnesium supplementation improved symptoms of insomnia in older people.

Low levels of magnesium may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.

  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great source of magnesium. Some of the highest magnesium nuts and seeds are pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, and peanuts.

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) helps promote your body’s natural melatonin production. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include:

  • Tuna

  • Salmon

  • Pork 

  • Poultry

  • Chickpeas

4. Complex carbs

Complex carbs help keep your blood sugar levels more steady. They also help make you feel full, so you’re less likely to wake up hungry in the middle of the night.

Complex carbs are higher in some nutrients that may also promote sleep, such as magnesium.

Examples of complex carbs include:

  • Oatmeal

  • Whole grain bread, crackers, etc.

  • Sweet potato

  • Beans

5. Honey

Orexin is a neurotransmitter produced in your brain that helps keep you awake. Glucose, the primary sugar in honey, helps turn down the production of orexin. 

This means that honey might help reduce feelings of wakefulness which can promote better sleep quality. That might be why warm tea with honey is a common remedy to promote sleep!

6. Tart cherry juice

Tart cherry juice might not seem like something you’d want to drink before bed to promote sleep, but scientific studies suggest otherwise.

In a small study, tart cherry juice increased sleep duration and sleep quality. Part of the reason tart cherry juice may improve sleep quality is by boosting tryptophan availability and inhibiting the production of an enzyme that breaks down tryptophan.

7. Vitamin D-rich foods

Some studies correlated vitamin D deficiency with sleep disturbances like reduced sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. Vitamin D isn’t naturally found in many foods, so it’s added to foods like dairy products to help meet nutrient needs.

Foods high in vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish  such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel

  • Red meat

  • Liver

  • Egg Yolks

  • Fortified foods including fortified cereals, dairy products, and non-dairy alternatives like almond milk

8. Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea contains an antioxidant called apigenin. Apigenin plays a role in chamomile’s sedative effect. Chamomile exhibits “benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity.” Benzodiazepines are a type of anti-anxiety medication that helps promote relaxation and can cause sleepiness.

In one small study, participants who took chamomile extract fell asleep faster and didn’t wake up as much during the night compared to those who didn’t take chamomile extract.

5 foods to avoid

1. Spicy foods

Spicy foods can trigger reflux (heartburn). They cause the gastroesophageal sphincter (the opening at the bottom of your esophagus, which carries food from your mouth to your stomach) to relax. 

When lying down to sleep, stomach acid can travel back up your esophagus because the opening is relaxed. The stomach acid causes pain in your esophagus and is commonly called heartburn.

Heartburn can keep you up at night and cause you to have poor sleep quality. If you’re going to have spicy food, try to have it earlier in the day to avoid sleep disruption.

2. High-fat foods

High-fat foods can also trigger heartburn. Fried food, cream-based dishes, and other high-fat meals can keep you up at night if you are prone to having heartburn.

High-fat foods take the longest to digest compared to carbohydrates and protein. If you eat a high-fat meal and then go to bed, you might experience indigestion (upset stomach).

3. Chocolate

Chocolate contains caffeine which is notorious for keeping you alert and awake. One ounce of chocolate contains about 13% as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Chocolate can also worsen heartburn symptoms.

4. Acidic foods

Acidic foods like tomatoes (including tomato sauce), citrus, and raw onions can increase heartburn symptoms and keep you from sleeping well. Aim to include these foods in your diet earlier in the day.

5. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can make you feel sleepy, but it disrupts sleep overall. Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, which is the most restful phase of sleep. Like many of the other foods already listed, alcohol relaxes your esophageal sphincter and can cause heartburn.

Conclusion

Diet and sleep are closely related. Your diet can promote healthy sleep or can disrupt your sleep. 

Foods and drinks like poultry, nuts, seeds, and chamomile tea might promote sleep, while high-fat meals, alcohol, and spicy foods can keep you up at night.

Your diet is only one aspect of your sleep health, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to get more restful sleep.

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Find out about Our Melatonin Supplement: Deep Sleep.

Sources

  1. Richard DM, Dawes MA, Mathias CW, Acheson A, Hill-Kapturczak N, Dougherty DM. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908021/
  2. Wallace CJK, Milev R. The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review [published correction appears in Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 7;16:18]. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2017;16:14. Published 2017 Feb 20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5319175/
  3. Vashadze ShV. [Insomnia, serotonin and depression]. Georgian Med News. 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17984558/
  4. Boyle NB, Lawton C, Dye L. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/
  5. Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23853635/
  6. [Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) influence on endogenic melatonin production during the experiment]. Georgian Med News. 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18250494/
  7. Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Rep. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/
  8. Zick SM, Wright BD, Sen A, Arnedt JT. Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198755/

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