What to Eat for Better Sleep

***Disclaimer: the following paragraph is a short rant before getting to the good stuff***

I never knew the true value of sleep until I had a baby. Pre-kid I could go to bed when I wanted, wake up when I wanted, and know that my deep slumber would not be interrupted by a tiny human with no regard for my circadian rhythm. Oh how I miss those days! My daughter is actually a really good sleeper (minus those initial 3 months), but you still can’t guarantee that she’ll sleep through the night or that a random cry won’t wake me at 3 in the mo. Plus, sleeping past 7 am is not a trait she’s yet developed. And because of these truths, I just don’t sleep as well as I used to. She’s worth it, but I still long for weekends of deep sleep until 8/9 am! OK, vent session over. Now onto the actual post…

If you look at the research, you’ll find that more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep; 7 hours is the recommended minimum according to experts1. And even if people are getting enough sleep, the quality isn’t great. A big part of poor sleep is due to stress and anxiety. Stress and sleep are intimately intertwined, but it’s a complicated subject for another blog post.

Another big part of proper sleep (and stress management!) is nutrition. Melatonin – your primary “sleep hormone” which regulates your sleep/wake cycle and whose output is guided by your circadian rhythm – is created from…nutrients! It starts with the amino acid tryptophan (amino acids are simply the building blocks of protein), which goes through a series of steps to turn into melatonin. I’ll save you the biochemistry lesson, but essentially tryptophan has to be converted into serotonin (another important hormone that regulates mood), then into melatonin. These biochemical reactions rely on a host of micronutrients including certain B vitamins, vitamin C and the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Long story short, if you aren’t eating enough protein and aren’t getting your micronutrients, your body probably isn’t producing adequate melatonin, which is affecting your sleep!

The good news is that you have the power to change this. Now, you might be thinking, “Great, I’ll just take a multivitamin and call it good.” Wrong. Although a multivitamin, or other supplements for that matter, is good insurance that you’re covering your basic needs, you don’t absorb synthetic nutrients in the same way that you absorb nutrients from food. Food should be your foundation. The nutrients in food work synergistically to have a more profound, positive effect in your body. Food is information for your body, so in order to produce the right hormones, you need to eat the right things. Follow these dietary guidelines to get your essential nutrients and start sleeping better!

Try to consume a serving of each of these foods per day; even more for dark leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower.

  • Pastured poultry, cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef for B vitamins (especially B12), tryptophan, zinc and iron
  • Raw bell peppers and citrus for vitamin C
  • Dark leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower for calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin C
  • Nuts and seeds for tryptophan and minerals (almonds and sesame seeds specifically for calcium)
  • Legumes like black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans and lentils for protein and minerals
  • Bananas for B6 and magnesium
  • Spirulina for tryptophan, vitamin B1, iron, and magnesium
  • Organic dairy products like cheese and yogurt for calcium, tryptophan and B12

In addition to the recommendations above, don’t consume caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, etc.) past noon, and if you’re extremely sensitive to caffeine, be careful not to eat chocolate close to bedtime, as it contains caffeine.

(Side note, nutrition is just part of the puzzle. Proper sleep hygiene and emotional components like stress and anxiety should be addressed as well.)

References:

  1. Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al.; Consensus Conference Panel. Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Sleep. 2015;38:1161–1183.

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