Sleep is massively important and plays a large role in how we function throughout the day. There are a number of things your can do to optimise your sleeping habits but one under-utilised tactic is paying attention to the dietary choices you make and knowing how these affect the quality of your sleep.
Most of us are already aware of how important diet is for our general wellbeing, fighting off diseases, repairing tissues and body composition. However, it’s often forgotten about when it comes to sleep.
We’ve created this guide to inform you of how food can help you get to sleep quicker and stay asleep for longer leaving you feeling more revitalised when you wake.
When it comes to eating foods for sleep, the most common mistake made is focussing on the food and not being aware of the minerals and vitamins that are responsible. Once your understand the minerals and vitamins that are responsible, this makes choosing the right food choices even easier.
There are Five main vitamins, minerals & hormones that you need to know:
The key here is to find foods that naturally contain high levels of these substances, and if you eat these foods at certain times before bed then this can lead to a better nights sleep.
An added benefit is that you can either choose to increase your vitamin and mineral consumption from either food or over the counter supplements.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is commonly found in foods that contain protein and one of the main functions of amino acids is to create protein.
Tryptophan also triggers the production of Serotonin which then converts into Melatonin.
Melatonin plays a key role in your sleep cycle and gives you the feeling of being tired at night and consuming more Tryptophan will in turn lead to a higher volume of Melatonin in the body.
One study revealed that participants who consumed Tryptophan enriched cereal at breakfast and dinner helped them not only fall asleep faster but also to stay asleep for longer compared to those who just ate regular breakfast cereals.
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Soy Beans
- Reduced fat mozzarella
- Lamb, Beef, Pork & Game
- Chicken & Turkey
- Beans & Lentils
Magnesium is an essential mineral which the body needs, however the human body doesn’t naturally produce Magnesium so we depend on getting it from external sources.
Magnesium has many benefits but is very well known for improving sleep quality and sleep issues such as insomnia can be triggered by a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency can also lead to restless sleep where a person wakes up multiple times throughout the night. Magnesium helps to provide deep sleep cycles and body restoration which has been backed by a study.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Lima Beans
- Brown Rice
- Dark Chocolate
- Non-fat yoghurt
Calcium is best known for it’s ability to strengthen teeth and bones, which we’re often told as young children growing up as a way of encouraging us to drink milk.
Calcium also triggers the brain in to increasing Melatonin production and a lack of Calcium can cause restless sleep where you wake numerous times throughout the night whilst also finding it hard to get back to sleep.
Calcium has a direct effect on our sleep cycles and this was proven in a study conducted by the European Neurology Journal which found that the level of Calcium present in the body is higher during the deepest sleep cycles throughout the night.
This revealed that calcium deficiency was related and sleep returned back to good levels once calcium uptake had been increased.
- Skimmed Milk
- Low fat yoghurt
- Black eyed peas
- Acorn squash
B6 is a commonly know vitamin which helps to support the functioning of our nervous system, however it is also beneficial for converting Tryptophan into Serotonin. Serotonin then assists in the regulation of Melatonin the sleep hormone.
The University of Adelaide carried out a study in 2018 which investigated the relationship between B6 and the quality of sleep.
Results from the study concluded that those who consumed the supplement before bed experienced a higher quality of sleep leading to them feeling more refreshed when they woke.
B6 deficiency has also been linked to symptoms of mood disorders and depression which can then lead to insomnia.
- Lean chicken breast
- Lean Pork Chops
- Sweet Potato
Most of the vitamins and minerals that are featured so far are because they trigger or aid the process of converting Serotonin into Melatonin which increases the overall quality of sleep.
Of course you’d think it’d be easier just to directly consume Melatonin.
The only issue is that if you only want to consume food that contains Melatonin then this will heavily restrict your potential food choices, however there are still a few great food sources that contain Melatonin:
- Tart cherries
- Leafy greens
- Dairy products
Foods & Drink that interferes with sleep
Caffeine is most commonly found in coffee or energy drinks and although they can help if you’re feeling tired throughout the day it's definitely not recommended after late afternoon. Caffeine can interfere with your sleep by keeping your mind awake so it takes you considerably longer to get to sleep.
Alcohol is often wrongly assumed as a way of inducing sleep because it gives you a drowsy feeling.
The reality is that it may make you fall asleep quicker but you will experience lower quality sleep and shorter REM cycles. It also acts as a diuretic so your sleep may be interrupted for your need to use the bathroom.
There’s nothing wrong with eating a meal before bed but you do have to be slightly clever about it. If the meal you eat is too heavy then your body’s resources will be used to digest your food.
If you do plan on eating before bed we’d recommend that it’s a light snack that contains a high concentration of Calcium, Magnesium, B6 or Tryptophan which will aid your sleep.
High Water Content Meals
Water may be good for you but consuming food that has a high water content right before bed can turn out being an unwanted convenience as you may find that you need to make several toilet trips throughout the night.
These disturbances will likely wake up you during the important REM deeper sleep cycles which can lead to you waking up not feeling fully rested in the morning.
Avoid High Fat Meals
Eating a meal with a high fat content can lead to poorer quality sleep. Fat can require more energy to break down whilst also taking longer to complete. This can make it harder to get to sleep whilst high levels of fat also negatively interferes with sleep quality.
A study was carried out by scientists at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center who investigated the relationship between high fat diet and sleep.
The researchers put rats on a fatty-food diet for 8 weeks. The sleeping patterns of these rats were then subsequently monitored and it was found that rats who ate a high fat diet for 8 weeks slept for longer than the regular diet rats but also experienced more fragmented sleep.
So now you can see that if you’d prefer to not take over the counter supplements then you still have a large number of food sources which will still allow you to consume the optimal levels of vitamins and minerals to improve the quality of your sleep.