Are YOU getting enough sleep? According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans aren’t! And beyond quantity, we also need to consider the quality of our sleep and how rested we feel in the morning. It should go without saying that one of the most important pillars of health is undoubtedly SLEEP! You can do everything “right” when it comes to nutrition, and yet if your zzz’s are lacking, your health will suffer.
In an upcoming post, I’d like to share some of my favorite sleep hygiene tips and what helps me hunker down for a restful night, but I thought I’d start with a few nutrition strategies that can set you up for better slumber.
1. Limit caffeine. Not many people want to hear this one – including myself! We each metabolize caffeine at different rates, so while some people seem to be able to drink coffee at all hours without feeling jittery or without laying in bed staring at the ceiling all night, others struggle with very minimal amounts. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, caffeine can effect the quantity and quality of sleep for all of us more than we may realize. In my experience, the best practice is to avoid caffeine after 12pm, and stick to 1 – 2 cups of joe per day. While coffee and energy drinks get the brunt of the blame, caffeine can also sneak into our bodies in the form of dark chocolate, tea, or even kombucha. When that afternoon craving sets in, turn to an herbal tea (hot or cold).
2. Cut the sugar and processed foods! A diet high in sweets and treats, or breads and cereals can put the body in a state of dis-stress. The hormonal response to the blood sugar rollercoaster can disrupt circadian rhythms AND increase general inflammation; both make quality sleep nearly impossible. Best practice: cut out the junk and build your meals with a variety of veggies, natural fats and quality proteins.
3. Feed your microbiota. The bacteria in our gut may have much influence on how well we sleep. Sugar, refined grains and processed foods not only result in gut irritation, but they can also lead to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of the “bad” guys and the “good” guys). We are learning more and more everyday about the value these little critters play on our health. Without them we can’t do all the amazing things that make us human. We rely on them and they communicate critical information to our brains. Best practice: eliminate sugars and processed foods, while emphasize fibrous vegetables, fermented foods and bone broths to replenish populations of good bacteria and improve their communication. Odd as it may sound, this can result in better sleep.
4. Add a little starch. Too much carbohydrate can be problematic, but, so can too little (for some). For those following a low carb, whole foods diet and struggling with sleep, best practice may be to add a serving of starch (root vegetables, sweet potato, potato, or winter squash) to your dinner plate around 4 hours prior to bed. Such foods may increase the amount of tryptophan available, which may boost melatonin and serotonin synthesis. It’s something worth playing with for a few weeks.
5. Decrease the alcohol. There’s a common perception that a couple drinks will bring on the heavy eyelids, and thus alcohol has become one of the most utilized sleep aides people turn to. But, the reality is that it’s disruptive to the natural sleep cycle. Alcohol can suppress melatonin, which naturally initiates and regulates our sleep-wake rhythms. As alcohol is being metabolized it can also effect the time you spend in deep and REM sleep states. This negatively impacts mental restoration, physical recovery, and increases your chance of waking during the night. Best practice: decrease your consumption, enjoy a drink earlier in the evening, and better yet, swap your glass of wine for sparkling water with a splash of fresh citrus most nights of the week.
While good nutrition can help improve your sleep, good sleep can also set you up to make better food choices. A win win!