Sleep is so important to our overall health and wellbeing. It impacts our emotions, cognition, mood, physical abilities and eating habits. When we sleep our body repairs and rejuvenates itself, it is where muscles are built, cells are replaced, hormones are released and healing occurs.
Over the past few decades, both sleep quality and quantity has declined. In fact, many people regularly get poor sleep (3,4).
Research shows that insufficient sleep can increase the risk of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults (10). Other studies conclude that getting less than 7–8 hours per night increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes (11,12).
Sleep and wakefulness are controlled by a series of chemical reactions in the body. Certain nutrients can affect these chemical reactions and alter how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night, and how you feel the next day.
So, if you want to optimize your health or lose weight, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do.
Here are 12 nutrition sleeping hacks to help get you into better and healthier sleeping patterns.
12 Nutrition Hacks for Better Sleep
- Stay away from spicy foods in the evening
Research shows that people that eat spicy food at night spent less time in both the light phase of sleep known as Stage 2 and the deep, slow-wave Stages 3 and 4. All of which means that they experienced less sleep over all and took longer to drift off (1).
- Try to avoid heavy meals at night-time especially if they are high in fat.
A heavy meal or fatty snack right before bed can cause discomfort and indigestion. This in turn can affect your sleep, causing you to wake up several times. Studies have shown that eating a large meal close to bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep. Aim for around 10 grams in the evening, or about what’s in three ounces of salmon.
- Cook with sleep friendly herbs such as parsley, dill, sage, basil, turmeric, garlic and nutmeg
Flavour your evening meals with these sleep-friendly herbs as opposed to spicy flavourings or sugar loaded sauces.
- Avoid high protein-meals before bed
Protein-rich foods release amino acids into the blood. When amino acids such as tyrosine flood the body, they are quickly used to synthesize stimulants such as the excitatory neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine, and thermogenic thyroid hormones. Excitatory neurotransmitters keep the brain active and thyroid hormones increase the body’s metabolic rate. Both effects disrupt sleep. Furthermore, by suddenly increasing the number of amino acids in the body, high-protein foods reduce the amount of tryptophan reaching the brain.
- Consume soy foods to reduce night sweats
If you struggle with hormone related night sweats and hot flashes you may want to consume more foods high in phytoestrogens such as roasted soy nuts, edamame, tempeh, tofu, soy milk and cheese (this should be non-GMO soy). Soy is also rich in important sleep promoting nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin E and magnesium.
- Best to consume a large breakfast, lighter lunch and an even lighter evening meal
This will take the strain off your digestion and enable your body to focus on sleeping as opposed to digesting
- Make sure you are getting adequate calories
Dieting and restricting calories can cause stress on your body and disrupt hormones which can have a negative impact on your sleep
- Avoid drinking too much in the evening
Try and consume most of your fluids during the earlier part of the day. Drinking too much in the evening can cause frequent wakings to go to the bathroom.
- Make sure you are eating enough fibre through more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
Research shows that people who fill up on fibre spend more time in deep sleep, than those who get less fibre, and consume more saturated fat, and more sugar which results in waking up more often (2).
- Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns (5,6). Alcohol also alters nighttime melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm (7,8). Another study found that alcohol consumption at night decreased the natural nighttime elevations in human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a role in your circadian rhythm and has many other key functions (9).
- Avoid MSG food products
A common food additive that is known to cause insomnia is MSG (monosodium glutamate). This compound is a common ingredient used in preparing Chinese foods as well as refined, packaged foods. However, it is a potent stimulant and can keep some people awake late into the night.
- Choose a nighttime snack that contains complex carbohydrates with a limited amount of protein and fat.
Dairy is a great sleep inducer (if you do not have an allergy or intolerance to it) because the brain can use the tryptophan and calcium from it to help make melatonin. Try and keep the snack to less than 200 calories and eat between 1 to 1.5 hours before bed.
Best Bedtime Snacks
- Whole grain piece of toast with a nut/seed butter
- A small bowl of low sugar cereal with low fat milk and a banana
- Cottage cheese and tart cherries or kiwifruit
- Yoghurt with cut up banana
- Small bowl of warm oatmeal with milk and banana
- Banana and nut butter on whole grain piece of toast
- Small handful of almonds (28 grams)
- Chia Oats with Kiwi
So, what are you waiting for? Try out some of our nutrition sleep hacks today and increase your potential for a long and restful sleep.