We’ve all been there: Lying in bed, wide-awake, cursing the coffee you had in the middle of the afternoon. Or perhaps it was those two miles you ran before bed. Or maybe it’s that deadline you’ve been stressing about.
For anyone that has suffered from elusive or unrefreshing sleep, you know that the smallest thing can derail a good night’s rest. The good news, however, is that small things can also improve your potential to get quality sleep — and one of those things is diet.
Foods that Contain the Sleep-Inducing Amino Acid Tryptophan
For those that celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner, you can probably relate to the food-induced coma that comes right after you go for seconds. This phenomenon is attributed to an amino acid named tryptophan, which is found in fish, eggs, dairy, and many other types of meat, including turkey. An essential amino acid (something our bodies don’t naturally produce, so we receive it from the food we eat), tryptophan is used in the production of serotonin and melatonin, chemicals essential for sleep and our sleep-wake cycles. Ensuring that your diet contains sufficient levels of tryptophan can help set the stage for a good night’s sleep.
Try some of these foods which contain high levels of tryptophan:
- Seeds and nuts
Including tryptophan-containing foods in your everyday diet will aid in your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, but too much tryptophan can lead to napping and irregular sleep cycles. As with most things in life, a balance is necessary.
B6, Calcium, Magnesium’s Role in Sleep
We all know that magnesium and calcium are necessary for healthy bones and that ensuring we get a daily dose of vitamins can enhance our quality of life, but they also play a key role in loads of other bodily functions — such as sleep.
Vitamin B6 plays an important role in keeping you awake and active. B6 helps your body make hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that is responsible for the transfer of oxygen from your lungs to the tissues throughout your body. Without sufficient hemoglobin, your cells don’t get the oxygen they require, resulting in anemia, a condition that can leave you feeling constantly tired and weak. Those with anemia tend to nap and sleep irregularly, disrupting the body’s sleep cycle.
Additionally, vitamin B6 is essential for the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a vital role in sleep health.
By regularly eating the following foods, you can maintain a healthy amount of B6:
- Seeds and nuts
One of seven essential macrominerals (minerals our bodies need in larger amounts, also not naturally produced), the body requires large quantities of magnesium that, as with tryptophan, we must acquire through our diet. A healthy magnesium level not only regulates our metabolic health, mood, and stress, but it also promotes deep restorative sleep. What’s more, a deficiency of the mineral has been linked to insomnia and frequent late-night awakenings.
Calcium aids in the brain’s use of tryptophan, which, as we established above, aids in the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and the sleep/wake regulating chemical serotonin. Research has shown that calcium deficiency is linked to sleep disturbances, including poor or insufficient Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM is an essential part of our sleep cycle. It improves our memory, judgment, and maintains a healthy emotional competency.
Foods that are high in calcium and magnesium include:
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, mustard greens)
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains
Other Sleep-Supporting Nutrients & Foods
In addition to tryptophan, B6, calcium, and magnesium-rich foods, there are numerous other foods that support healthy sleep.
- Lettuce contains a nutrient with sedative properties.
- If you prefer grains over greens, pretzels, corn chips, and rice all have a high glycemic index, which helps tryptophan enter the brain.
- Chamomile and passion fruit tea are great options for those who enjoy a cup of tea before bed. Chamomile tea is associated with increased amounts of glycine, which is known for its relaxing properties and as a mild sedative. Passion fruit tea contains harman alkaloids that act on the nervous system and help to promote tiredness.
Food and Drinks To Be Wary Of
Caffeine is a natural psychoactive substance that can also be synthetically produced and is most often consumed in drinks, with coffee and tea being the most popular choices.
The energy we feel after consuming caffeine is the result of caffeine’s role in blocking adenosine, a sleep-promoting chemical that builds in our brain as the day progresses. When present, caffeine disrupts our brain’s adenosine receptors, allowing us to feel more awake for a longer period of time.
The general recommendation is to stop drinking caffeine at least six hours before your typical bedtime. By keeping your caffeine consumption to morning and early afternoon hours, you’re allowing your body sufficient time to metabolize the caffeine and engage in its normal sleep-inducing processes without interference.
Alcohol is a very deceptive substance when it comes to sleep and sleep quality. Despite its ability to help you relax and fall asleep quickly, alcohol compromises your sleep quality in ways you may not realize.
To begin, alcohol stunts rapid eye movement (REM), the stage in your sleep cycle that’s responsible for deep, restorative sleep. Without REM, you’ll either wake up frequently throughout the night or too early in your sleep cycle, resulting in the impairment of your memory and alertness. You’ll also wake up very, very tired.
Alcohol is also known to worsen the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea, and can even cause the brief onset of these disorders in individuals who don’t currently suffer from them.
Despite all this, you don’t have to completely cut out alcohol to enjoy restful, quality sleep. By limiting the frequency and the amount of alcohol you consume, you can both enjoy your nightcap and safeguard your sleep quality.
- Limit drinking to 2-3 times a week
- Drink earlier in the day versus in the evening or right before bed
- Avoid binge drinking
- For men, binge drinking consists of more than 5 drinks in a 2-hour span.
- For women, binge drinking consists of more than 4 drinks in a 2-hour span.
Carbohydrates, Fatty, and Protein-Rich Foods
Yes, it is true that there are protein-heavy foods (we’re looking at you, meat) that can aid in sleep due to the tryptophan they carry, but too much protein can hurt sleep. Why? Because proteins take longer to digest.
One study, in particular, found that a diet with low-protein resulted in poor sleep quality while a diet with a high amount of protein intake resulted in difficulty maintaining sleep. The same thing was found in regards to carbohydrates. This is because while you’re sleeping, your body is trying to digest these foods high in carbs and protein.
A healthy, balanced diet is essential to healthy sleep. Foods high in saturated fats result in weight gain, which puts you at a higher risk of developing sleep disorders. By limiting the amount of fatty foods that you consume, and maintaining a healthy weight, your overall health, from mood to sleep to mental health, will improve.
If you continue to suffer from poor sleep despite diet changes and other efforts, you may be experiencing a more severe sleep problem that needs to be diagnosed by a qualified professional. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, and others require effective treatment to restore quality sleep and prevent significant related health issues. Contact Sleep Dallas today to schedule a consultation.