Can your diet affect how you sleep?
Warm milk…midnight snacks…there’s no doubt that there’s been a lot of rumours flying around regarding what you eat and how it affects your sleep.
As more and more evidence emerges, a lot of you are starting to seriously consider the role that your diet may play in keeping you up at night and, with many of you making the sensible decision to lower your caffeine intake and cut down on refined sugars, some of you are asking if it’s possible that certain foods may in fact help your sleep patterns rather than hinder them.
Fortunately, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ There are definitely foods out there that can help you to get a better night of sleep and today I’ll be talking about a few of them!
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There are a number of nutrients that can help to improve your sleep and some of them will probably be very familiar to you! I’ll be taking a look at my top 7 sleep-boosting nutrients, discussing their benefits and food sources while suggesting a couple of my favourite recipes that manage to incorporate them!
1 – Melatonin
Although not technically a nutrient, if you know anything about sleep then melatonin’s inclusion on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise. Otherwise known as the ‘sleep hormone’, melatonin is secreted by your brain, usually in the evening, and makes you feel drowsy and tired, or in other words, ready for bed.
When your production of melatonin is inhibited a number of sleep problems can occur, which is why so many turn to melatonin supplements to increase their intake. However, before considering a supplement, I would look at natural, food-based sources. There are plenty of ways to absorb melatonin through your diet.
Food sources: Tart cherries, oats, bananas, broccoli, flaxseeds
Banana, Cocoa & Almond Flapjacks
Cashew & Banana Smoothie
2 - Amino acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are essential components of your muscles and tissues, helping to give your cells their structure. When it comes to sleep, one amino acid in particular takes centre stage – tryptophan.
One of the essential amino acids, tryptophan can act as a mood regulator, having a natural, calming influence on the body which is conducive for sleep. It can promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone that can help to improve your sleep pattern by helping to produce melatonin.
As well as being beneficial for sleep, tryptophan can also support your immune system and improve your energy levels! Again, taking a supplement of this production is sometimes necessary; however, in the meantime I would also take a look at increasing your dietary intake.
Food sources: Tofu, turkey, oily fish, mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkins
Marinated Tofu Stir Fry
Pumpkin & Potato Soup
3 – Magnesium
Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral that’s responsible for approximately 300 chemical reactions within the body. It’s essential for healthy muscles and joints, and can help to regulate your mood, converting tryptophan into the feel-good hormone serotonin.
Studies have also shown that magnesium can be useful when it comes to regulating melatonin1, helping to support your circadian rhythm. This, in addition to its beneficial impact on your mood, can help you feel more relaxed and calm before bedtime. Magnesium is widely available from food-based sources and if you want more information about why you should taking this miracle mineral, you can always look at our nutritionist Emma’s blog entitled, ‘Should you be taking more magnesium?’
Food sources: Spinach, sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, almonds, pumpkin seeds
Apple & Spinach Smoothie
Cranberry, Almond & Coconut Truffles
4 – Omega-3s
Studies have recently revealed that omega-3 fatty acids might be associated with a good night’s sleep. Research conducted by the University of Oxford detailed that children who take daily omega-3 supplements experienced nearly an extra hour of sleep each night in comparison to the other trial group that was taking a placebo.2
As well as their beneficial effect on sleep, omega-3s are also vital for healthy brain development and deficiencies have even been linked to mental health disorders such as depression. They’ve also been shown to have a positive impact on cardiovascular disease, helping to reduce blood pressure and encourage good cholesterol.
Food sources: Mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, cauliflower
Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice
Spiced Cauliflower & Carrot Salad
5 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been linked to symptoms such as fatigue and muscle weakness but recently, evidence has emerged that could suggest that vitamin D also has an impact on your sleep patterns.
A few studies have been conducted to examine the link between vitamin D deficiencies and sleep problems but arguably more research is still needed. Nevertheless, one study did reveal that low levels of vitamin D were linked to lower sleep efficiency scores and that patients were more likely to sleep less than 5 hours a night.3
This is quite significant, especially when you consider how widespread vitamin D deficiency is, particularly in winter. Of course, you can synthesis more vitamin D by spending time outside, however there are plenty of dietary sources too!
Food sources: Salmon, milk, cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified cereal
Savoury Egg Muffins
6 – Calcium
Ever heard of having a warm glass of milk before bed? It turns out that this might not be such as bad idea after all.
Surprisingly, calcium is very important when it comes to your sleep patterns. One study published by the European Neurology Journal found that your levels of calcium are higher during REM sleep, and that some forms of sleep deprivation and insomnia could be related to a deficiency in calcium.4
This relationship is in part due to the role calcium plays in the utilisation of tryptophan. As I discussed earlier, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can play a role in the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. I would definitely recommend increasing your increase and fortunately, there are plenty of food sources available.
Food sources: Milk, kale, broccoli, figs, oranges, sardines, tofu
Tofu & Vegetable Satay Stir Fry
7 – Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, sometimes known as pyridoxine, plays an important role when it comes to metabolism and energy, helping to convert certain foods into glucose and metabolising proteins. However, similar to calcium, this role can extend to the conversion of tryptophan.
Aside from your metabolism, vitamin B6 also works to help support the nervous system and one of the ways that it fulfils this role, is by converting tryptophan into serotonin, an important mood hormone. However, if you aren’t getting enough vitamin B6, this process may be inhibited which can cause insomnia symptoms.5
However, while it may be tempting to consider a B6 supplement, there are still plenty of dietary sources available. If you are going to use a supplement, though, I would recommend a B vitamin complex that contains an array of B vitamins. By just focusing on one B vitamin, you may risk becoming deficient in the others! Our sister company Jan de Vries offers a range of vitamin B complexes, but I’d personally advise trying Lambert’s Methyl B Complex.
Food sources: Turkey breast, avocados, sesame seeds, bananas, spinach, prunes
Quinoa Stuffed Avocados
Poached Eggs with Spinach on Wholemeal Toast