Eat better to sleep better – here’s how (nib)

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Ever wondered why you have nightmares after eating a cheesy pasta? Or why you can’t seem to stay awake after noshing on a turkey lunch at Christmas? The foods and drinks we consume can play a role in our quality of sleep – and if you’re struggling to catch those ZZZs at night, a tweak to your diet might just put you on the path to a more restful slumber.

“Our diet can dramatically impact our sleep – both positively and negatively,” shares accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers.

“In fact, research has found that general malnutrition – that is, a lack of key nutrients like vitamins and minerals – is associated with sleep problems.”

How diet affects your sleep

While the food we consume certainly influences our sleep patterns, “it’s likely that an overall eating pattern will be more beneficial to improved sleep, rather than specific foods,” explains Jaime.

A healthy, balanced diet that promotes general health and wellbeing is the best place to start.

“The Mediterranean diet pattern, which includes moderate amounts of good-quality carbohydrates, lean protein – particularly oily fish and seafood – and lots of fruit and vegetables, has been shown to improve sleep quality,” Jaime shares.

It’s also important to look at not just what you’re eating, but when. Ideally, you don’t want to go to bed over-full or feeling hungry, so try to have your last meal of the day around two to three hours before hitting the hay; this gives your body time to digest as you wind down. If you do feel peckish between dinner and bedtime, a small snack – such as a piece of fruit or a glass of milk – may help you sleep better.

Top foods to help with sleep

While an overall healthy lifestyle is the best approach, there are some foods that may help make us feel tired and promote sleep.

  1. Kiwifruit is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and, in one study, people who ate two of the fruits an hour before bed fell asleep faster, slept more and had better sleep quality.

  2. Tart or sour cherries (and their juice) contain high levels of the hormone melatonin,
    which helps our bodies regulate sleep. Participants in one study who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice daily spent more time asleep and had higher sleep efficiency.

  3. Milk contains melatonin and has been shown to reduce sleep interruptions when taken before bed.

  4. Fatty fish like salmon is full of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which help regulate serotonin – another hormone that is linked to our natural sleep and wake cycles.

  5. Nuts also contain melatonin, along with minerals like magnesium and zinc – all of which
    have been shown to have a helpful effect on people suffering with insomnia.

What foods to avoid before bed

Just as some foods help us sleep better, there are others to give a wide berth before you call it a night.

“We know that a high-carb meal – especially one with a high glycaemic index (GI) – can make us sleepy, but it is also associated with more night-time awakenings and less time spent in the very important deep, refreshing sleep,” says Jaime, adding that large portions of chocolate, energy drinks, tea and coffee in the afternoon and evening and over-eating at dinner-time, should also be avoided.

And while drinking alcohol can make us feel drowsy, excessive intake can disrupt sleep. “One drink is unlikely to make a difference. However, any more than that in the evening can impact sleep by causing night waking,” Jaime advises.

Find out how you can eat for better concentration and have more energy.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.