Our lifestyle pattern plays an important role in long-term health and well being. But, while adopting a busy lifestyle, we are often neglecting and decreasing the sleep hours or may not have a night of quality sleep.
Can you think of the last time when you had bad sleep? If a poor sleeping pattern continues for a few days, you may be waking up exhausted, lethargic, or confused minded as sleep deprivation can cause these symptoms and most of you might have experienced this. According to the research, sleep deprivation not only causes grogginess to your body but also the metabolism and can affect negatively proper brain functioning. It causes the impaired activity of the front lobe, which controls complex decision-making especially related to food.
Can diet affect your sleep or sleep affect your diet?
There are some studies that have reported the link between diet and sleep. The dietary pattern and habits not only affect the daytime alertness but also nighttime sleep. Some studied also quote the diets that affect sleep or sleep pattern that affects our dietary intake. Hence, diet and sleep go hand in hand and are interlinked.
Let’s take an example. A diet rich in fat and sugar like confectioners, sweet beverages, and low in fiber can disturb the sleep. Such a diet which is low in fiber, but high in sugar and unhealthy saturated fats can cause sleep deprivation especially of slow-wave sleep which is our deep sleep. This is also a stage of sleep where the body restores physical and mental energy, builds bones and muscles and strengthens the immune system.
On the other hand, lots of shreds of evidence show that sleep influences our eating behavior. Sleep-deprived people are often are linked to hunger, craving for high-calorie foods, going for bigger portions, and desiring for every type of food that is unhealthy for them. This eventually leads to obesity and related metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.
How diet affects sleep quality?
- The most important element for good sleep is the timing of the meals. A human body has a natural cycle that tuned to particular times. If the body is working, with active metabolism, its temperature will increase. However, during sleep, the body’s temperature drops down as the body’s associated metabolism slows down. The digestion is the largest process and part of these metabolic events. So, during sleep, if the digestion process is still undergoing, it can affect the body temperature as well as the preparation for rest.
- Apart from the digestive reasons, another obstacle in healthy sleep is ‘heartburn’ or ‘acid reflux’ which occurs when the stomach acid, which helps to digest the food we’re eating, along with the stomach content travels up in the esophagus (food pipe) irritating the form of burning chest pain. If the evening meal is rich in fats and spices, it can lead to indigestion and can encourage acid and gastric juices to flow upward into the esophagus causing heartburn. As one can imagine, the position can easily influence such reflux as in the horizontal position, it’s easier for the stomach content to flow towards the esophagus. So, acid reflux can easily affect sleep. Food items like fruit juices, fried foods, salty snacks, coffee, tea, onions, peppermint, and chocolate can contribute to such symptoms and hence towards poor quality sleep.
Portion size: If the diet is too little, it can awaken you in the middle of the sleep simply because of the hunger pangs. On the other hand, too big portions can make you feel uncomfortable. A small snack can take the edge off your hunger but a big portion can override your digestive system, hence it can lead to wake you up in the middle of the sleep. So, if a person is having poor dietary habit then it can lead to a poor sleep pattern or quality.
Let’s see a few examples-
|Diet||Symptoms and sleep quality|
|1||Rich in calorie, fat and sugar, energy drinks, sugar-sweet beverages, and low in vegetable or skipping breakfast.||Digestive discomfort, making you alert and leading to poor sleep quality|
|2||Heavy dinner and in a big portion||Bloating like symptoms, restlessness, poor quality sleep|
|3||Low in vegetables, causing a deficiency of nutrients such as calcium and magnesium||Muscle cramps and pain leading to a quantity of sleep.|
|4||Rich in unhealthy fats and sugar which can lead to obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart attack||Sleep-apnoea, snoring, insomnia, restlessness.|
|5||A spicy and acidic diet which can cause acid reflux or heartburn.||Discomfort from heartburn can affect sleep.|
|6||Low in fibre which can cause constipation||Discomfort from abdominal pain can cause restlessness even during sleep|
|7||Liquids in an excessive amount, high in caffeine or alcohol||Full bladder and frequency of micturition|
Foods that make you relax and sleep
A healthy diet enhances sleep quality and duration but having consistently high-quality sleep can help you to eat better.
A combination of foods rich in tryptophan, 5-Hydroxytryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6 and carbohydrates is perfect for sleep promotion.
- Tryptophan (an amino acid) is a natural dietary sleep inducer, converted by the body to 5-Hydroxytryptophan.
- Vitamin B6 which is known as a co-factor converts tryptophan into serotonin (also an amino acid). Serotonin is associated with impulse control, mood, appetite, and sleep.
- Carbohydrates assist with transporting the amino acids into the bloodstream and the important parts of the brain. Although a carbohydrate meal itself lacks tryptophan, such a meal causes insulin to be secreted. Insulin, in turn, decreases plasma levels of large neutral amino acids that would ordinarily compete with tryptophan for transport into the brain which can hence lead to poor sleep.
- Calcium will assist with the development of melatonin- a hormone that regulates wakefulness. It also controls the sleep-wake cycle.
What should I eat to sleep better?
- Dairy products: for good quality sleep, one can have cheese, yogurt, milk with honey, or with banana. As milk contains essential amino acids and is rich in tryptophan. By increasing the level of serotonin, it is hence a natural dietary sleep inducer.
- Honey, a simple sugar transports glucose and tryptophan into the brain whereas, banana which is rich in Vitamin B6 helps to convert tryptophan into serotonin.
- However, it is useful to avoid an excess of proteins and fats (such as too much red meat!). Not only they obstruct beneficial nutrients we are trying to consume, but they also will inhibit the pathway of melatonin production.
- A balanced diet: a diet should be balanced not too little nor too heavy. A diet should consist of lean proteins and fibers (vegetables) that will keep you full for a longer duration. Also, prefer lean fat from animal sources and favoring vegetable oil (low in saturated fat).
- Give time for digestion! do not eat too late in the night, no later than one and half an hour before heading to the bed. It’s important to have enough time for the food for proper digestion as it can affect the process of falling asleep.
Let’s summarise and look at the sources of these useful food nutrients-
|Food rich in||Food source|
|Tryptophan||Milk, yogurt, cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, mangoes, bananas, dried dates, oats and chocolate, and peanuts|
|5 Hydroxy Tryptophan||Banana, strawberries, sweet cherries, orange, dried dates, figs, papaya, pineapple, hazelnut, and grapefruit|
|Vitamin B6||Whole grains, vegetables, banana, nuts, and meat|
|Calcium||Dairy products, seaweeds, kelp, almonds, sesame, blackstrap molasses, okra, broccoli, kale, greens, amaranth, quinoa, and figs. Also fortified food such as cereals, orange juice, soya milk.|
Mind your drink before heading to bed:
Avoid consuming plenty of fluids, especially caffeine and sweet beverages or confectionery in the late afternoon or evening that is closer to bedtime as they can disturb the sleeping process and quality.
A good thumb rule is to have the quality of sleep up to seven to eight hours per night and to make sure that one poor night of sleep isn’t followed by a few more. It might not seem like much, but it could make all the difference and mean more than any other health decision you would make. Hence, for a good and healthy lifestyle, not only eating and exercising are important but also a good quality sleep is equally important.
Tips for good sleep “hygiene”:
- Setting up ‘regularity’- schedule to get up in the mornings; even on weekends
- Not napping during the day
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night
- Not watching television; not eating or reading while in bed
- Following the same bedtime rituals every night
- Avoiding vigorous exercise three hours before bedtime
- Getting out of bed when you can’t fall asleep
- Not going to bed until you are tired