It’s important to get 8 hours of sleep per night, but it’s also important that it be quality sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has several general sleep practice recommendations to help you rest better each and every night, leading to an improvement in your day to day life. But did you know that certain dietary choices we make can also impact how well we sleep? What we can consume and when we consume it affects our sleep patterns and can often hinder both falling asleep or resting deeply. Here are a few simple changes you can make to what and when you eat that can lead to a more restorative night.
Many people like to have a drink or two to help them get to sleep, but that practice can negatively impact the overall quality of sleep. A review of sleep studies published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that alcohol reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. However, this initial benefit is offset by disruption to latter stages of sleep. Alcohol consumption increases deep sleep (temporarily) and negatively affects REM sleep.,.. REM sleep can be delayed and decreased, making for more restless slumber and negatively affects sleep quality.
Timing can be everything when it comes to caffeine. Having a cup of coffee, tea or even soda after 12:00 noon can affect your sleep. If you feel like your afternoon pick-me-up beverage is still going strong at bedtime, set a cutoff time of 3:00 pm. If that doesn’t help, move your last caffeinated beverage to 12:00 noon or even 10:00 am. On average, the caffeine in a cup of coffee maintains its effects for six hours, but your mileage may vary. Also, pay attention to the caffeine content of your favorite beverages; a cup of green tea or a cola contains about 30 mg whereas a cup of coffee from Starbucks can be 150 mg or more.
Research indicates that eating large meals or snacks before bed can negatively affect the quality of your sleep. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that higher food intake before bed had a detrimental effect on sleep patterns, especially in women. Male participants of the study experienced decreased sleep efficiency and reduced REM sleep when they ate larger amounts of fat as part of their food intake before bed. Sleep efficiency is calculated using the number of hours one sleeps and the amount of time in bed for sleep. For women, eating a higher amount of calories before bed was associated with reduced sleep efficiency and a longer time to fall asleep (sleep latency). Similar to men, women who consumed more fat before bed experienced reduced sleep efficiency and extended sleep latency, plus an increased risk of waking up during sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that helps us to regulate sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin impacts the immune system and can affect weight maintenance. It also helps to regulate other hormones. Melatonin is produced in higher levels by our bodies when we are young, and the production wanes as we age. This can be part of why it is harder for older adults to get a great night of rest. A study by the Institute of Biomedicine and the University of Helsinki has shown that some food items, including many edible plants, contain melatonin. Foods with high levels of melatonin can help to increase the melatonin in our systems, and allow us to get a better night of sleep. Some examples are tart cherry juice, kiwis, grapes, tomatoes, olives, and walnuts. Adding these foods into your diet or evening meal may help you to get a better night of rest.
The National Sleep Foundation has found that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise per day can help improve your sleep. It may be best to save high intensity workouts for earlier in the day, as a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Physiology found that individuals who participated in intense evening workouts took longer to go to sleep when compared to individuals who participated in low-intensity exercise. Taking a vigorous walk, run or bike ride on a regular basis will improve sleep quality and duration. A study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity showed that adults who got 150 minutes of exercise per week saw a 65% improvement in sleep quality vs. people who exercised less. The study also found that daytime sleepiness decreased and concentration improved for those who exercised.
The keys to living a healthy lifestyle are pretty consistent with the keys to healthy sleep. Exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and steering clear of meals or snacks close to bedtime are choices that will help with sleep as well as with weight maintenance or loss, and will help us to feel better overall. Seeking out melatonin-rich foods and restricting caffeine to the AM will further improve our sleep health. The better we rest, the better equipped we are to face each day and the better a foundation we have to tackle other goals like weight management and physical fitness.