Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for your health and wellbeing, and the quality of your sleep is affected by your diet. In fact, certain foods can make it harder for you to get to sleep or stay asleep. A diet high in caffeine, sugar or processed foods can also disturb your circadian rhythms or internal clock, which plays a role in when your body goes into sleep mode and when it wakes up.
If you've ever had trouble sleeping, there's a good chance a diet loaded with processed foods or other nutritional problems caused it. Nutrition and sleep have a profound, intertwined relationship, and what you eat at night (your dinner, snacks, etc.) can have a big impact on the quality of your rest.
Here are some easy steps you can take to improve your sleep and your diet:
Optimise Your Gut Health Through Fermented Foods
Research has found that the types and amounts of gut flora (the microorganisms in your gut) influence both circadian rhythm and the quality of sleep. To optimise your gut health, focus on eating fermented foods, which help to nourish gut flora and promote better sleep.
Fermented foods that are high in prebiotic fibres, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and miso soup, also nourish healthy intestinal bacteria. You should also drink plenty of water because it helps to flush out toxins from the body.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Digest Your Meals
Try having dinner earlier in the evening so you can give your body time to digest after eating heavy meals. This will help to prevent indigestion, bloating and other digestive problems that can cause sleep problems.
Proteins take more time to digest than carbohydrates, so if you eat a lot of protein at night, it's more likely to interfere with your sleep. For some people, try eating less protein at night or swap it for a healthy carbohydrate instead.
Need some inspiration for what kinds of foods are good for a good night's sleep? Check out these delicious, lighter options:
· A healthy sandwich made with lettuce, avocado, and tomato (try it on whole grain bread).
· A pan-fried tortilla with salmon, eggs, and tomatoes.
· Chicken with asparagus and carrots, topped with a drizzle of olive oil.
· A small portion of pasta with tomato, basil and garlic sauce, garnished with grated hard cheese.
Watch Your Sugar Intake
Sugar intake, especially refined sugars that are added to processed foods, also appears to play a role in sleep quality. One study found that high sugar intakes were linked with poor sleep quality, even when other factors (such as caffeine and alcohol intake) were considered.
Fortunately, many natural foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are high in fibre which helps to slow the absorption of sugar from your digestive tract. Eat lots of these healthy options for dinner so you can avoid too much sugar in your diet.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine have a stimulating effect on the nervous system that can interfere with your natural sleep cycles. Some studies have found that alcohol can take up to an hour to reach its peak level in the blood, so you may wake up still feeling the effects after one glass of wine or beer.
Caffeine, on the other hand, can have an immediate effect on your nervous system and may make it much more difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep. If you struggle with sleep, try to avoid alcohol and caffeine at night. If you are going out drinking, try to drink light beer. This will help prevent any hangover and the next morning fatigue that comes with drinking alcohol. If you do drink coffee throughout the day and can't seem to stop yourself, then cut way down in the afternoon or at least 6 hours before bedtime.
To really help induce sleepiness, try replacing your evening coffees with herbal tea mixes, such as chamomile and lavender. Drinking chamomile tea can help to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation, both of which are important for a good night's sleep. Sip a cup at night to calm down and ease into sleep.
Exercise and Stress Management
Maintaining a healthy diet is also essential for managing sleep problems. If you exercise regularly, it can improve your sleep by releasing chemicals called endorphins that help to reduce stress, lower anxiety and boost mental health. It's also important to make time for yourself so that you can relax and unwind a bit before bedtime. You should try to avoid high-stress situations around bedtime.
To help you sleep better at night, keep these tips in mind:
· Optimise your gut health by eating fermented foods.
· Give yourself enough time to digest your meals.
· Watch your sugar intake.
· Avoid alcohol and caffeine if you're having trouble sleeping.
· Be mindful of your exercise and stress management for good sleep.
These are just a few ways that nutrition can affect the quality of your sleep, but there are many other elements to consider as well. For example, some people with sleep disorders may want to try a wearable fitness tracker to track their heart rate, breathing patterns, movement, or respiration before bedtime to determine whether certain movements or activities might interrupt their sleep cycles. Sleep well!