It’s no secret that the quality of our sleep is impacted by what we eat and what we drink.
There’s a reason we reach for coffee or Red Bull when we’re tired. We know from experience that these stimulants will snap us awake, or at least stave off slumber. Conversely, we can’t enjoy a turkey dinner without someone cracking a joke about the inevitable tryptophan-induced naps.
But can we improve our regular sleep by making changes to our day-to-day diet?
The short answer: it’s complicated. Sleep quality is influenced by several factors, some of which overlap. For example, some diet modifications may affect your weight or heart health. Improvements in these areas can also lead to better sleep. It’s not always clear what changes brought the most benefit.
However, researchers have found that there are some foods that enhance sleep:
One study found that kiwi helped participants get to sleep sooner, sleep longer, and sleep more soundly. Researchers suspect that this lush fruit's antioxidant properties and serotonin contents may be the beneficial elements.
In another study, researchers observed that participants who ate salmon three times a week experienced notably better sleep. They attributed the benefits to fatty fish’s vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which help our bodies handle serotonin.
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often praised as healthy snacks. Insomniacs especially appreciate the melatonin, magnesium, and zinc they can glean from these nuts, supplements that have been proven to help with sleep.
The jury is out on most carbohydrates, with some forms (like sweets and sugary drinks) being blamed for poor sleep. However, one Japanese study suggested that adults who ate more rice slept better than those who ate more bread and noodles.
Healthy Diet and Sleep
While these foods may enhance your sleep, your best bet is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. For nutritionists, that means maximizing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat, ideally balancing the vitamins and minerals that are essential to your body.
These efforts will likely include some measures that also promote better sleep:
Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine’s stimulating effects. However, you’d do well to avoid it later in the day, so that your body has enough time to process it before you hit the hay.
Although alcoholic beverages have a reputation for inducing drowsiness, too much alcohol can actually disrupt your sleep cycles and leave you feeling unrested the next day. If you’re going to drink, do so in moderation.
Eating right before bed can send your body mixed signals. You want to get some rest, while your body wants to digest the food you’ve just consumed. What’s more, you run a greater risk of acid reflux if you spicy or fatty foods in the evening.
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The long and short of it is that there’s no magic food that can guarantee a good sleep. However, you can take control of your sleep environment by investing in the best mattresses and bed linens.
This problem only gets worse as we age. The older we get, the less melatonin – aka the “sleep hormone” – our bodies naturally produce. As a result, we’re likely to struggle with sleep and have greater concerns over our bone health.
Napping is essential. But how long should you really nap? Generally, it's recommended to limit your naps to 15-20 minutes. This time is long enough to renew your energy without falling into a deeper sleep.