Dietary Tips for Sleep
Written by Chantelle van der Weyden BPsych (Hons), AdvDip(Nat), AdvDip(NutMed)
Sleep is potentially the most underrated tool to thriving health. With over 1.2 million Australians experiencing sleep problems (Hechtman), and sleep problems being the third most common reason for GP visits, sleep deprivation is a modern day epidemic.
Sleep is essential for human functioning, and a lack of sleep has been linked to numerous disease processes including increased appetite and weight gain (Schmid), insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (Donga), an imbalanced gastrointestinal microbiome (Benedict), hormone imbalance (Sadamatsu, Penev, Reynolds) and fertility concerns (Kloss, Lui), compromised immune function (Zielinski) and the development of mental health disorders (sleep foundation), memory problems and cognitive decline (Shi). It is generally recommended that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, with sleep between the hours of 10pm and 2am thought to be the most restorative.
Sleep hygiene is important in ensuring a good night’s sleep and encompasses tips such as limiting screen time before bed, ensuring the lights are dimmed of an evening, creating a supportive bed time routine, and being mindful of caffeine intake during the day. Perhaps less known, is how your diet might influence sleep, including sleep duration, efficiency and quality.
Don’t skimp on the carbs before bed! While the research around carbohydrate intake and sleep is mixed, there is some evidence to show that consuming a higher carbohydrate meal of an evening increases REM sleep and reduces sleep onset latency. One study found that a higher carbohydrate meal also improved stage 3 sleep – the deepest stage of sleep – during the first half of the sleep period. Similar effects have been reported with a higher glycaemic index meal before bed. It is thought the carbohydrate intake may support sleep due to increased serotonin synthesis, an amino acid that is required to facilitate sleep. (St-Onge)
There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the Mediterranean diet improves sleep quality and duration in both healthy adults and those prone to poor sleep (Godos, Zuraikat). The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and legumes, whole grains and olive oil, with greater fish intake, and limited amounts of meat, dairy and alcohol. It has been suggested that this style of diet contains a broad spectrum of nutrients, which may in and of itself be supportive of healthy sleep. Further to this, the Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, and interestingly impaired antioxidant defence responses have been reported during sleep deprivation while increased neuro-inflammation may be a possible driver of poor sleep quality (Godos).
Food consumption 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime has been shown to impede sleep quality, particularly sleep onset latency. This may be due to increased gastric volume (i.e. more food in the stomach) at bed time causing greater physical discomfort, and thus difficulties falling asleep. Furthermore, digestion slows down during sleep and eating too close to bedtime may induce indigestion, reflux and sleep disturbance (Crispim). We recommend leaving 2 to 3 hours between eating and bedtime, and if this is not possible, have something small to eat as opposed to a big meal as going to bed hungry can negatively impact blood sugar levels and increase wakefulness during the night.
Specific nutrients and supplements
Adequate serotonin synthesis is essential for healthy sleep onset and maintenance. Vitamin’s B3, B6 and magnesium are essential for the metabolism of this important neurotransmitter, and deficiencies of these nutrients will result in inadequate levels of serotonin and therefore poor sleep regulation. Foods rich in B vitamins include whole grains, eggs, dark leafy greens, meat, fish and dairy products, while foods rich in magnesium include nuts and seeds, legumes, dark chocolate and dark leafy greens. The old wives tale of a glass of warm milk before bed may also hold some merit, as calcium is required for sleep maintenance (Sarris & Wardle).
We hope you find these tips useful, and if you need further support please reach out to your natural health practitioner.