There could be many reasons behind those sleepless nights and groggy mornings. Besides extra screen time and stress, your diet too plays an important role in your night routine. “Inadequate diet may be associated with poor sleep quality. Studies show that a higher intake of processed food was associated with poor sleep quality, whereas a high intake of fish and vegetables was associated with good sleep quality. Our macronutrient intake also affects the sleep outcomes which was studied in non-shift workers showing that low protein intake (<16% of energy from protein) was associated with poor quality of sleep and marginally associated with difficulty initiating sleep, whereas high protein intake (>19% of energy from protein) was associated with difficulty maintaining sleep (Tanaka et al),” reveals celebrity nutritionist Ryan Fernando of QUA Nutrition. It is important to eat timely meals and keep a gap of at least 2-3 hours between the last meal and bedtime so that it does not interfere with your sleep. Increased caloric intake during the day is linked to daytime sleepiness. This may result in longer naps during the day thus affecting the night sleep cycle, explains Fernando. The glycemic index of the meal plays an important role in determining sleep onset.
In one study, healthy men experienced a shortened sleep onset latency (slept faster) when they were provided with a high glycemic index (GI) meal that was consumed four hours before bedtime, compared with the consumption of a low GI meal, or a high GI meal one hour before bedtime.
There is a concept called Chrono nutrition which combines health, behavior, and chronobiology to understand the optimum timing of food intake for health and wellbeing. Practicing regular meal timings tends to align with the circadian clock and prevents the development of metabolic conditions. On the contrary, eating at a time that contradicts our circadian system, such as late-night snacking, can disturb rhythms in clock tissues, such as the liver, and misalign metabolic processes, such as glucose homeostasis, gastrointestinal motility, and digestive processes.
Does a high-carb diet affect your sleep?
A low carb diet and a high carb diet both have effects on sleep outcomes. Carbohydrate manipulation primarily affects REM and non-REM sleep. “This association is mediated by the quality of carbohydrate rather than its quantity of consumption. Poor sleepers with the highest carbohydrate intake consumed more processed, sugar-sweetened beverages and gluten-rich foods as compared to good sleepers with a similar high carbohydrate intake,” says Fernando. The research proposes that the effect of a high carbohydrate diet on changes in sleep stages is related to increased serotonin synthesis. Thus it is important to consume balanced meals with good protein intake to support good sleep quality.
How do nutritional deficiencies impact your sleep?
Micronutrients intake also affects sleep patterns. “Deficiency of vitamin B1, folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, and selenium is linked with shorter sleep duration. Difficulty falling asleep may be due to a lack of micronutrients like vitamin D, alpha-carotene, selenium, and calcium. Scientific trials have shown that nightly intake of nutrients like melatonin, magnesium, or zinc improves sleep quality,” shares Fernando. He adds that consumption of alcohol negatively affects sleep latency and disrupts the normal REM/NREM cycle due to its ability to influence levels of serotonin and norepinephrine.
What to eat for good sleep?
Fernando says improvements in sleep outcomes are seen after consumption of tryptophan-rich foods, an amino acid present in foods such as milk. Lower tryptophan levels have been shown to reduce sleep quality. “Tryptophan competes with other large amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it is converted to serotonin, the precursor to melatonin which is a sleep-promoting hormone,” he says and shares a list of good sleep foods.
- Almond: Contains active components like melatonin and magnesium and consuming a handful of almonds before sleeping is ideal for a good night’s sleep.
- Walnuts: They are rich in melatonin and about 7-10 walnut halves before bedtime can contribute to the early onset of sleep.
- Kiwi: Contains precursor serotonin and consuming 2 kiwis one hour before bed is said to improve sleep quality.
- Milk: Contains sleep-inducing agent tryptophan, so having a cup of warm milk before bed is associated with a longer sleep duration.
- Chamomile tea: This magic tea has an active component apigenin which when consumed in the form of 1 cup before bed results in good sleep quality and duration.