A healthy meal plan and good sleep go hand-in-hand. One of the best things you can do to get better sleep is maintaining a healthy weight and eating a nutritious diet.
Sleep is one of the key pillars of health. Without it, we break down mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, lack of concentration, and sluggishness.
According to Assoc Prof Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Centre Director of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Sleep Center of Excellence, individuals who have sleep disorders and experience poor quality sleep tend to have inadequate dietary intake. These individuals are reported to have a higher consumption of sugary food and beverages, energy drinks, and skipping breakfast more frequently. They also have more irregular eating patterns compared to individuals who rate their sleep as good quality sleep.
Although individuals who are practising the Mediterranean diet reported having better sleep or even fewer insomnia symptoms, there is not really a consensus in literature where we can say that a specific dietary pattern can improve one’s sleep. All we know right now is that there are associations between various foods, various dietary patterns, and sleep quality and duration, with poor quality diets being associated with worsened sleep.
Are there sleep superfoods?
We know that certain foods that we consume can interfere with sleep. The most obvious one in terms of stimulating wakefulness is caffeine, and then there’s nicotine. Much of what we know about sleep and diet comes from large epidemiological studies that, over the years, have found that people who suffer from consistently bad sleep tend to have poorer quality diets – with less protein, fewer fruits and vegetables, and a higher intake of sugary food and beverages. But by their nature, epidemiological studies can show only correlations, not cause and effect.
As per Dr St-Onge, some studies show that kiwi fruit and tart cherry juice, not cherry per se but tart cherry juice, can improve sleep quality. “Maybe the antioxidant content of fruit may have a benefit on sleep.”
One study found that people assigned to eat two kiwis an hour before bedtime every night for four weeks had improvements in their sleep onset, duration and efficiency.
Another study found that drinking tart cherry juice can modestly improve sleep in people with insomnia, supposedly by promoting tryptophan, one of the building blocks of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
“We have shown in our research that dietary fiber is one of those things which impacts the quality of sleep at night. So it’s possible that some fruits and vegetables providing high fiber intakes could potentially be linked to better sleep through fiber,” Dr St-Onge said.
If you want to hear Dr St-Onge’s interview on eating for good sleep listen to this podcast episode:
Key tips on eating for good sleep
With the coronavirus pandemic, school and work disruptions, and general background stress contributing to countless sleepless nights it is important to look at factors such as diet that can reduce the impact of stress and poor sleep. That is why sleep experts have encouraged people to adopt various measures to overcome their stress-related insomnia, such as regular exercise, establishing a nightly bedtime routine and cutting back on screen time and social media.
A growing body of research suggests that the foods you eat can affect how well you sleep, and your sleep patterns can affect your dietary choices. A holistic, well balanced diet can help sleep and can also be helpful for many chronic illnesses. It’s not about what you eat just before bed. The key to a healthier quality of sleep is the food you eat across the day or week. A nutritious diet – higher in fruits, vegetables, less in saturated fats and highly processed sugars, will be healthy for sleep.
Dr St-Onge has spent years studying the relationship between diet and sleep. Her work suggests that rather than emphasizing one or two specific foods with supposedly sleep-inducing properties, it is better to focus on the overall quality of your diet.
If you have tried these strategies and still need help, talk to your health professional as they will be able to direct you to more resources or refer you to experts for help.
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