Healthy Living

Eat These Foods for Better Sleep

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC

When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep, where you woke up without your alarm blaring and felt energized and refreshed? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of adults and more than two-thirds of high school students report inadequate amounts of sleep. Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep, and adolescents need at least 8 hours (10 is even better) for the best health and well-being.

Risks of Not Getting Enough Sleep

If lack of sleep continues, it can lead to obesity, physical inactivity, mistakes at work, car crashes, and 10 chronic health conditions: heart attack, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD, cancer, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes.

Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

 

Getting enough sleep can result in a healthy immune system, causing you to be more able to fend off colds and flu that are going around. Sleeping 7 or more hours each night can help you keep off excess weight. You’ll have good levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and lower levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone). Sleep boosts mental wellbeing and in turn, reduces the likelihood of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Sleep prevents diabetes. Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than 5 hours a night have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose, which the body uses for energy.

In addition to strategies to improve sleep (sleep hygiene) like including regular exercise, getting regular exposure to daytime light, establishing a bedtime routine, and sleeping in a dark, cool bedroom, food choices also play an important role in quality of sleep.

Foods to Consume to Promote Better Sleep

  1. Some studies show that short sleepers (people who routinely sleep less than the recommended 7 hours per night) don’t eat enough protein throughout the day. Include plain Greek yogurt, nut butter, skinless poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes (dried beans and peas like chickpeas, lentils, and pinto beans), edamame, or tofu with every meal (and most snacks!) to make sure that you’re consuming optimum amounts of protein.
     

  2. Tart cherries, not the sweet ones we typically enjoy, may help improve levels of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep. Bananas, pineapple, and oranges are also good sources of melatonin. Try combining all of these into a fruit salad
     

  3. Walnuts are high in melatonin, serotonin, and total polyphenols, all of which help promote restful sleep. Try eating ½ to 1 ounce of walnuts 2 hours before bedtime. Almonds are also recommended and are a good source of heart-healthy fats.
     

  4. Foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin to induce calmness and drowsiness, can help promote sleep, especially when they’re combined with whole grains. The best bedtime snack is one that contains both: think whole grain cereal such as plain oatmeal or Cheerios with milk, peanut butter on whole grain toast, or cheese and whole grain crackers like Triscuits.
     

  5. Two kiwis consumed about 2 hours before bedtime may enhance sleep. Combine the kiwi with ½ cup of low-fat cottage cheese, which is a good source of tryptophan, and you may see even better benefits. Cottage cheese and other foods that are high in lean protein are good choices.
     

  6. Skip the white bread, refined pasta, and sugary, baked goods, which may reduce serotonin levels and impair sleep. Instead, choose stick-to-your-ribs whole grains for your bedtime snack: Popcorn, oatmeal, or whole-wheat crackers with nut butter are all good choices.
     

  7. A cup of caffeine-free bedtime tea, such as Chamomile, ginger, and peppermint are calming choices for bedtime.
     

  8. Scientifically, there may be a link between the tryptophan and melatonin content of milk and improved sleep. We may also have strong, fond memories of warm milk and bedtime as a child. Like hot tea, a warm glass of milk can be soothing and relaxing at bedtime.
     

  9. Fruits that contain melatonin may help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. For instance, tart cherry juice and whole tart cherries contain a lot of melatonin, and bananas, pineapple, and oranges are also sources. Other fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants (like berries, prunes, raisins, and plums) may have a similar effect by helping to counteract the oxidative stress caused by a sleep disorder.

Things to Avoid to Promote Better Sleep

  1. Most people realize that caffeine helps us stay awake, but we often don’t know that the combination of caffeine and sugar found in energy drinks has an even stronger effect. It’s easy to fall into a cycle that begins when you feel tired and lethargic, so you consume energy drinks to feel like you have more energy, then find that the caffeine in the energy drink makes it more difficult to fall asleep at night, which leads to low energy levels the next day and –- you guessed it –- consuming more energy drinks.
     

  2. Frequent consumption of sweetened beverages, such as soda, sweetened tea, and fruit drinks, is associated with poor sleep quality.
     

  3. While we may think that drinking alcohol in the evening helps us fall asleep, it actually disrupts sleep over the course of the night and can prevent you from entering the deeper stages of sleep. This may cause you to wake up still feeling tired despite having spent an adequate amount of time in bed.
     

  4. Poor eating habits overall, including skipping breakfast and other meals, is also associated with poor sleep quality.
     

  5. Eating 30-60 minutes before going to bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. When we eat foods higher in fat and calories –- chips, cookies, and ice cream, for example -- during the hour before we go to bed, it’s even more difficult to fall asleep.

This information is for educational purposes only. The statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your physician if you have any question regarding a medical condition

 

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html Last updated 3-9-17. Accessed 1-20-18.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html Last updated 5-2-17. Accessed 1-20-18.

  3. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Hygiene. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-hygiene Accessed 1-25-18.

  4. Grandner MA, Knutson KL, Troxel W, Hale L, Jean-Louis G, Miller KE. Implications of sleep and energy drink use for health disparities. Nutrition reviews. 2014;72(0 1):14-22. doi:10.1111/nure.12137.

  5. Crispim CA, Zimberg IZ, dos Reis BG, Diniz RM, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine?: JCSM?: Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2011;7(6):659-664. doi:10.5664/jcsm.1476.

  6. National Sleep Foundation. Food and Sleep. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep Accessed 1-22-18.

  7. St-Onge M-P, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(5):938-949. doi:10.3945/an.116.012336. 8. National Sleep Foundation. Foods for a Good Night’s Sleep. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/foods-good-nights-sleep Accessed 1-22-18. 9. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ 10. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/food-and-drink-promote-good-nights-sleep

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