For lots of us, getting enough sleep can be a challenge (hello parents with little kids!). From busy schedules to everyday stress, there is so much that can prevent us from getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night these days! Thankfully, a nourishing and balanced diet can be a key player in helping you get some much-needed z’s.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is restorative! Which means not getting enough of it negatively affects our brain and body. Sleep deprivation can lead to anything from memory issues and mood changes to weight gain and decreased immunity. If these aren’t reasons to prioritize sleep, I’m not sure what is!
So where does the food come in?
Well for starters, sleep and nutrition have a two-way relationship. What you eat can have an impact on your sleep. Similarly, the quality of your sleep can impact what you eat. In fact, not getting enough sleep can actually increase your appetite, as it affects two hunger hormones that tell us how much to eat.
Can food poorly impact sleep?
What we know currently is that a diet high in processed foods, including those high in added sugar, may worsen sleep quality. Eating too much saturated fat (think red meat, butter, coconut oil) and not getting enough omega-3 fat (think fish and seafood, nuts, and flax seeds) can also play a role. It is also not recommended to eat a large or heavy meal right before bedtime.
We also can’t forget one of the biggest culprits of a poor night’s sleep – caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant found in beverages like coffee and foods such as dark chocolate. But don’t stress yet, I’m not going to tell you to kick your morning coffee! Caffeine consumed too close to bed is the biggest concern, and if you are looking to improve your sleep patterns it is best to avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime.
You may not be surprised that alcohol can also be a player. Opposite to caffeine, alcohol is a sedative and therefore can make you sleepy…at first. While alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, it can catch up with you later in the night. While large amounts before bed have worse effects, even small amounts of less than two drinks were related to poor sleep quality.
Are there foods that improve sleep?
Everyone has likely heard the myth that eating after dinner is bad for you, but we now know a light-balanced snack in the evening might actually help you sleep!
In general, if you are focusing on eating a healthy balanced diet throughout the day this can help your sleep. Specifically, the Mediterranean diet has been linked with better sleep. This diet focuses on eating a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, olive oil, fish, smaller amounts of other animal proteins, and seasoning with fresh herbs and spices.
If you are looking for specific foods to help you sleep, here are some highlights:
- Fatty Fish
- Tart Cherries
- Tart cherries actually contain significant amounts of sleep-promoting melatonin and can be used in these Cherry Breakfast Bars.
- Almonds & Walnuts
- Dairy Products
- You may have heard of drinking warm milk before bed to help you sleep; dairy products such as milk and cheese may help. This may be due to its melatonin and tryptophan content.
Overall, while some research has found links between specific foods and sleep, it is most important to note the impact of eating wholesome and nourishing meals every day.
Let’s not forget that while nutrition may be part of the equation, other healthy habits including regular exercise, stress management, and getting enough sunlight are also important for helping you wake up feeling well-rested.
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