Eat for Good Sleep
Trouble sleeping? Little wonder during these troublesome times. But fretting doesn’t help you stay rested and well. Sleep does. Canyon Ranch Tucson Director of Nutrition Lisa Powell, MS, RDN, says eating the right food can help you get your rest again and stay healthy.
“Nutrition plays an important role in supporting restful sleep and a balanced mood,” Powell says. “Eating regularly throughout the day will help you regulate circadian rhythms to support daytime alertness and nighttime sleep.”
A healthy balanced diet, Powell explains, aids the body’s ability to make the sleep–promoting serotonin, dopamine and melatonin. Adequate calcium, magnesium, iron and B vitamins are important nutrients for sleep enhancement, and here’s where you’ll find them:
Calcium – Milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified dairy alternatives, almonds, almond butter, artichokes, broccoli, kale, collards, turnip greens, sesame seeds, black strap molasses
Magnesium – Spinach, Swiss chard, tofu, almonds, almond butter, pumpkin seeds, legumes, ground flax seed, peanut butter, quinoa, edamame, brown rice, sweet potato, broccoli
Iron – Animal meats, egg yolks, legumes, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables
- Leafy greens, whole grains, nuts
- B12 – animal protein and dairy products
Some sleep disrupters …
Alcohol disrupts sleep quality and duration. It’s initially sedating, yes, but as the brain goes through withdrawal, you may find yourself waking in the middle of the night. Generally, one drink disrupts sleep for two hours – that’s 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80–proof liquor, or a 12-ounce beer. One half-bottle of wine can disrupt sleep for 5 hours! If you choose to drink, be mindful of the quantity and the timing, and don’t use alcohol to help you to fall asleep.
Caffeine, from coffee, soda, energy drinks and some sports drinks, is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep. Tea and chocolate contain similar stimulating compounds. Caffeine is also a diuretic, which may also wake you for nighttime trips to the bathroom. The timing and quantity of caffeine intake is important. 25% of the caffeine you consumed at 8 am is still in your system at 10 pm. Pay attention to how much caffeine you’re consuming and know your individual tolerance. If you need to cut back, do it gradually to prevent headaches and fatigue.
Consider these caffeine-cutting strategies:
- Mix half regular and half decaffeinated coffee
- Choose caffeine-free herbal teas
- Drink mineral water or seltzer in place of carbonated beverages with caffeine
And sleep enhancers …
Tryptophan is an amino acid that may promote sleep and calm your mood. Tryptophan is converted in the brain to serotonin, associated with mood stability, and into the sleep hormone melatonin. To ensure that tryptophan passes through the blood brain barrier, include a carbohydrate-rich food with these tryptophan-rich foods:
- Milk and dairy products
- Turkey, chicken, eggs
- Nuts and peanuts
- Pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Dates, figs and honey
- Brown rice
Try these tryptophan-rich snacks one or two hours before bedtime to boost melatonin:
- Small oatmeal cookie with a glass of milk
- Plain yogurt mixed with one tablespoon tart cherry juice concentrate and a drizzle of honey
- Fruit yogurt with berries
- Natural nut butter on half a whole–wheat English muffin
- A glass of warm milk with vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon
Melatonin and cherries
Melatonin is important in regulating your wake-sleep cycle and may help reduce risk of viral infection. Blue wavelength light, nicotine and alcohol suppress melatonin production. Tart cherry juice contains melatonin. In one study, two ounces of tart cherry juice concentrate per day moderately improved sleep quality and total sleep time.
Conventionally grown cherries are high in pesticides, so choose organic cherries/cherry juice when possible. Mix two ounces of tart cherry juice concentrate with water or seltzer and drink one to two hours before bedtime.
Try to meet your nutrient needs completely through diet. Certain supplements, as recommended by your health care provider, may also be helpful to achieve restful sleep:
- Magnesium and calcium – Supplementation of these nutrients taken one to two hours before bedtime can induce relaxation and promote sleep. Magnesium chelate or glycinate may be easier to digest and absorb than other forms. Calcium citrate is a good choice due to better absorption and tolerance.
- B complex vitamins – Look for activated B complex vitamins, such as methyl folate/B 12. Take B vitamins during the day, as taking them at night may be stimulating and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Melatonin – taken two hours prior to bedtime may improve sleep onset and duration.
Practical Nutrition Considerations
- Eat breakfast when you feel hunger and then eat every 3-4 hours.
- Pay attention to the quantity and timing of alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Avoid large meals 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid foods containing MSG, which can stimulate the nervous system.
- Avoid spicy meals at dinner.
- Limit gas-forming foods in the evening, such as legumes and cruciferous vegetables.