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How Your Diet Affects Your Sleep

First added 23rd August 2021

By Jessica Kadel

4 min read 

According to a recent survey by Aviva, roughly two-thirds of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep. While it's easy to pin this on stress, or external things such as noise, light, or temperature, your sleep is largely affected by a number of internal factors. This includes the amount of exercise you do, how much sun you've been exposed to, and even what you've eaten that day.

Did you know food and drink play a huge role in helping you achieve a healthy slumber? In this article, we will explore the effect diet has on sleep. And what foods you should turn to in the late hours if you're feeling hungry.

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Does Diet Affect Sleep Quality?

Food is essentially fuel for the body. Your diet affects your brain health which, in turn, affects your sleeping pattern. This has been confirmed by a number of studies. For example, a recent study that explored the effects of diet on sleep found that certain foods result in a lighter, less restorative sleep for healthy adults. This included foods with less fibre and more sugar and saturated fats.

Talking to NBC, Ana Krieger, Medical Director of the Sleep Center for Medicine, she explains this: "The nutrients we get from food serve as the building blocks for other minerals and proteins that are needed to create the amino acids that are involved in sleep".

As well as this, diet can affect sleep quality on a long-term scale. For example, increased saturated fats are more likely to lead to obesity, which puts you at increased risk of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. This causes impaired breathing, meaning you'll wake up several times during the night.

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Foods That Help You Sleep

With a link between diet and sleep, it's important to not overindulge in unhealthy foods if you'd like a solid sleep pattern. The trick is to look for a range of vitamins, chemicals, and amino acids, such as:

  • Trytophan
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Melatonin
  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B

 

Below is a list of foods and drinks which contain the above nutrients.

Nuts

Nuts have a range of benefits. But particularly walnuts and almonds can help improve sleep health. That’s because these nuts are natural antioxidants that protect your cells from inflammation. They also include magnesium and melatonin, which is also known as the sleep hormone.

Fish

Fatty fish, including tuna, trout, mackerel, or salmon, boast high amounts of vitamin D, which not only increases your body’s serotonin levels but also enhances sleep quality. Therefore, having some fish as your evening meal can help you get to sleep more quickly and more deeply.

Turkey

Another popular food for sleep is turkey. It's often the go-to meat for the health-conscious as it’s low in fat but high in protein. Turkey contains a range of vitamins and minerals, it also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is recommended to boost sleep as it increases the production of melatonin.

Kiwis

Vegetarian-appropriate bedtime foods that will enhance sleep include a range of fruit. Most notably, kiwis. Kiwis boast a variety of vitamins including vitamin D and K. They’re also full of potassium and antioxidants which will help you drift off.

Cherries

Another firm favourite fruit that aids sleep is cherries. These are rich in sleep-enhancing ingredients, including tryptophan, melatonin, and potassium. In particular, tart cherries are a good go-to as they are rich in fibre as well as vitamins.

Herbal Teas

Finally, herbal teas are a good nightcap for insomniacs. Chamomile tea especially contains antioxidants that help you relax and promote sleepiness. According to Healthline, a study found that women who drank chamomile tea for two weeks reported improved sleep quality compared to those who didn’t drink tea.

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What Foods Disrupt Your Sleep?

While there are foods that aid sleep, there are certain foods and drinks that disrupt sleep. The main culprits to avoid are foods that are high in sugar and spice or foods that contain the amino acid tyramine, which causes us to feel alert. Therefore, avoid the below foods close to bedtime if you want a restful night:

  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Curry

Does Sugar Keep You Awake?

As mentioned sugar is a no-go when it comes to sleep. Consumption of sugar increases the production of orexin, which is a chemical that makes you feel awake. Avoid sugar at least 3 hours before bed. Or if you need to settle your sweet tooth, opt for sugary healthy foods which promote sleep, such as cherries or kiwis.

Caffeine and Sleep

One of the most obvious things to avoid for a restful night is caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks the production of adenosine, a substance that promotes sleepiness. Therefore, a morning coffee when you’re trying to wake up is ideal. However, an evening coffee will disrupt your sleep. According to research reported by The Independent, you should aim to have your last coffee of the day at least 7 hours before bed.

Alcohol and Sleep

Finally, bad news for those who enjoy a tipple, alcohol has a negative effect on sleep quality. This is because alcohol causes you to wake up often during the night as the sedative properties of alcohol wear off. Alcohol also blocks REM sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep where dreaming occurs. Therefore, avoid alcohol four hours before bed or drink water between each serving.

Other Tips to Improve Sleep Through Nutrition

As well as what to eat and what to avoid, there are other things you can do to increase your sleep quality. For example, food quantities and timings play a key role.

1. Avoid Heavy Dinners

Large quantities of food take longer to digest. Therefore, having a big dinner a few hours before bedtime can be disruptive to your sleep, particularly for those who have digestive problems. This is because your body is still working to break down the food when it should be winding down to rest. To avoid this, have your bigger meals earlier on. For example, opt for a big breakfast and have a lighter dinner.

2. Eat Around the Same Time Each Day

As well as what we eat, when we eat plays a key role in getting a good night's rest. This is because our body clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, likes to keep to a routine of when we eat and when we fall asleep. Although we don’t have to have our meals at the same time each day, it’s best to stick to consistency and not skip meals or have one particularly late or early. Shifting behaviour by eating a very late meal could throw off your circadian rhythm, meaning it will take you longer to sleep.

3. Avoid Drastically Changing Your Diet

Finally, as well as consistency with timings, consistency with what you eat can also help your sleep pattern. However, this doesn’t mean you have to stick to the same foods every day, just avoid big and sudden changes, such as switching to a high-fat diet. This would reprogram your various body clocks, which may be why you find yourself struggling to sleep after starting a diet.

And that concludes our tips for improving your sleep through diet. We hope you manage to achieve maximum zzz’s! For more helpful advice and sleep tips, visit our Snooze Hub.

 

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