After introducing you to our pillar series, today we're taking more of a deep dive into understanding the intricate relationship between sleep and nutrition. As more and more research goes into exploring the effects that each pillar of health has on the other, our particular focus is to look at the role that food consumption plays on sleep. Meaning, we'll equip you with the perfect little crash course on the specific food groups you should be incorporating to improve your general sleep quality.
It's important before we kick things off that you understand the difference between sleep duration and sleep quality. Researchers from the International Journal, Advances in Nutrition explained that "unlike sleep duration, which is clearly defined by the amount of sleep one gets at night, sleep quality can be measured by using objective criteria, such as polysomnography, the amount of slow-wave sleep (SWS)3 and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep one gets at night." This is significant because, although certain foods (or alcohol) may make us feel drowsy and sleep longer, they don't necessarily contribute to a healthy night of sleep!
Foods to Avoid Before Bed
Let's jump straight into looking at the foods/ food groups that play the most havoc on our zzz's.
Despite the initial drowsy feeling we get after a few drinks, unfortunately, alcohol can be seriously detrimental to sleep. This is because it disrupts our natural sleep cycle and can block our ability to fall into a restorative REM state. Without REM our bodies become fatigued, immune-compromised and our most basic mobility functions can suffer. Often working as a depressant or physical downer, alcohol can also hinder muscle function leading to obstructive sleep apnea and loud snoring. This means that even if we feel more tired and stay in bed for longer, we miss out on the critical health benefits that a quality night's sleep can deliver. You can minimise these negative effects by keeping a 1:1 water-alcohol ratio and stopping your alcohol consumption at least 4 hours before bed.
Some chocolates, soft drinks, desserts, ice creams, pre-workouts and teas contain caffeine that you mightn't be aware of. This is significant as caffeine can stimulate the secretion of cortisol, which is our natural 'stay alert' trigger in the body. We suggest carefully checking for caffeine in the labels of your favourite PM snacks and refraining from anything with caffeine from around 2:30 pm each day.
Tyramine is an amino acid that naturally stimulates brain activity and is a common culprit for migraines and mental restlessness at night. If you find yourself suffering from either migraines or restlessness, start by keeping a food journal and exploring your Tyramine intake. Tyramine occurs in foods such as citrus fruits, salami, caviar, red wine and soy sauce!
Skip The Sugary Treats
Sugar (insulin) highs can cause inflammation and our blood levels to spike which can lead to some serious stimulation and discomfort. We suggest closing the treat cupboard of your kitchen at least 3 hours before bed to help your body naturally wind down.
Spicy or Acidic Foods
Heartburn sufferers will back us here when we say that the repercussions of a spicy or acidic dish can far out weigh its positives before bed. Chillies and things like tomatoes, citrus and onions can wreak havoc on our intestines and boost our body's temperature, stopping our natural ability to cool down for sleep.
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Foods and Drink with High Water Content
Less about nutritional intake, but just as important...Pit stops to the loo can be a real disruptor to a good night's sleep. We suggest tapering off your watery food intake at least 1-2 hours before bed. Beyond what comes out of the tap, this also includes foods like celery, watermelon and cucumbers!
What does a sleep positive diet look like?
As a general rule outlined by the International Journal, Advances in Nutrition, "diets with a low protein intake (<16%) were associated with poor quality of sleep and marginally associated with difficulty initiating sleep. Whereas, both high protein diets (>19%) and low carb intakes (<50%) were associated with difficulty maintaining sleep.” This means that an optimal diet for both nutrition and sleep purposes require around 16-19% of protein intake and at least 50% of carbohydrates per day, leaving the remaining 31% of your diet to be consumed as healthy fats.
Now that we've covered what foods to avoid and the optimal intake percentages for our diet, let's take a look at foods that naturally assist in our nighttime wind-down.
Tryptophan Rich Foods
Whenever you discuss sleep and hormones, you'll no doubt hear the word Serotonin get thrown into the mix. But did you know that Serotonin (a chemical messenger linked to regulating our moods) is synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan? Tryptophan rich foods help naturally trigger serotonin and calm us for sleep. Foods rich in tryptophan include eggs (specifically egg yolks) salmon, nuts, pineapples, tofu and turkey! When we consume the correct levels of tryptophan and trigger positive amounts of Serotonin production, we feel less anxious, happier and more emotionally stable, improving our overall sleep health and making us mentally fit for a rested state.
Once consumed, tryptophan in the body can also be converted into another sleep significant molecule, melatonin. Most commonly associated with your sleep-wake cycle, melatonin is the hormone produced in your brain's pineal gland and helps naturally trigger your circadian rhythm. When our melatonin levels are lacking we see an increase in restlessness, lethargy and anxiety, further highlighting the importance of consuming tryptophan-rich foods.
Bananas get a stand-alone mention as they are a jam-packed sleep-inducing superfood! High in vitamin B-6, fibre, magnesium, potassium, tryptophan and melatonin, banana's help trigger everything your body needs to swiftly transition into bed.
Dairy Milk and Teas
If you prefer to sip on something soothing as part of your evening wind-down routine, try incorporating herbal teas that include ingredients such as passionflower, fennel, liquorice, lavender and chamomile. Full of antioxidants, herbal teas with these kinds of bases help to decrease the effect of anxiety and can assist the body’s natural production of melatonin. Dairy is also an excellent promoter of natural melatonin and a great source of calcium!
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