The latest research suggests that you should get at least seven hours of sleep each night to keep your mind and body healthy. For many people, like new parents or doctors like myself, this just isn’t always realistic.
In addition to the realities and obligations of everyday life, insomnia is a common condition (it affects about 30% of the worldwide population) that may cause you to lay awake at night. I personally have suffered from bouts of insomnia from time to time. Like many people with insomnia, I experienced significant disruption in my daytime functionality due to sleep deficiency.
There are many ways to get a good night’s sleep, even if you suffer from insomnia. While getting the right mattress and limiting technology before bed are all helpful strategies, it is important not to overlook the role that nutrition plays.
Certain foods can keep you up at night – including that late-night cup of coffee I always used to have. Other foods, on the other hand, help to promote healthier sleep. In this article, I’ll cover my top nutrition tips for better sleep.
Nutrition Fundamentals For Better Sleep
Most people only consider what they do just before bed when trying to address insomnia. For example, if you drink a cup of camomile tea and add some lavender drops to your diffuser, you may find that it makes you feel relaxed.
We need to take a step back though, and consider how your actions throughout the day affect your sleep. This starts with a closer look at your diet.
The typical Western diet is filled with fatty and processed foods, which contain added sugars, salt, and more. These products do not offer your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, and they can even interfere with your sleep.
The Role Neurotransmitters Play in Sleep
Some nutrients are actually crucial to ensuring a good night’s sleep. The first and most important is tryptophan, an amino acid. Tryptophan is created from lean proteins – lean proteins break down into amino acids in your body. It is converted into serotonin in your body, which is a neurotransmitter that has an interaction with your brain.
Serotonin is known to affect how we sleep. For over 50 years, it has been at the center of sleep research:
“Serotonergic neurotransmission is related to the behavioural state of the animal and plays an important role in modulation of the behavioural state, by interacting with other brain areas modulating circadian rhythm, sleep and waking.”Serotonin and Sleep by Ursin, R.
When serotonin levels are balanced, you will generally find that you fall asleep faster – and stay asleep longer. An imbalance in this neurotransmitter, however, can lead to sleep deficiency. In some cases, problems with serotonin may even cause depression to develop.
People with depression commonly experience various types of sleep disturbances. These essentially lead to the development of insomnia and in turn, sleep deficiency. Restoring your serotonin balance through the consumption of high-quality protein with tryptophan is an excellent first step toward diagnosing sleep issues.
Vitamins and Minerals Affecting Sleep
There are also certain minerals and vitamins that affect the sleep process. If you have a deficiency of these nutrients, you may find it harder to sleep.
Increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals is an excellent way to ensure your body is able to calm down, so your mind can shut off once you get into bed. The vitamins that are crucial for a better night’s sleep include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin B12
Theanine is another amino acid that has also shown positive results when administered to people with sleeping problems. This amino acid is known to produce a calming effect in the body.
How To Improve Sleep Nutrition Through Your Diet?
The first step to improving sleep through nutrition is to take a closer look at your diet. Failing to get the nutrients your body needs can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health, and almost everyone’s diet can use improvement.
Start by considering the mistakes you are making. Having a cup of coffee to help you get up in the morning is a great way to start the day, but a beverage that is filled with caffeine is not a good idea in the afternoon or evening.
Including foods that contain the essential nutrients you need to sleep better is critical. There are many foods that contain the nutrients we listed in the previous section – add a variety of them to your meals. For example, salmon is very high in vitamin D and an excellent go-to dinner protein to prepare you for a good night’s sleep.
Green tea is a great option for increasing your intake of theanine. Oolong tea and black tea also contains theanine. Note that some teas do contain caffeine, so if you’re drinking tea close to bedtime, make sure you’re choosing a caffeine free option.
To make sure you’re getting enough tryptophan, consider eating these foods:
Most vegetables and fruits contain decent amounts of the vitamins and minerals you need to sleep better. Leafy greens like spinach offer a larger variety of these nutrients.
You should note, however, that vitamin B12 is only obtainable from meat. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I would recommend a multivitamin supplement to increase your intake of vitamin B12.
How Supplements Can Help Your Sleep
It can sometimes be difficult to maintain proper levels of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids needed for a great night’s sleep. If you think you might be deficient in one of these areas, dietary supplements can help.
The most common sleep supplement is melatonin. It’s a highly researched, safe, and effective way to improve your sleep and should be your first step in supplementing for a better night’s sleep. Melatonin does not put you to sleep. Instead, it tells your body that it’s night time which helps you relax and get to sleep quickly.
Another lesser-known but potentially useful sleep aid supplement is valerian root. Research suggests that valerian root can help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. That said, some users report that it gives them a foggy feeling the next morning, and I always recommend my patients start with melatonin.
When taking supplements, it is important to consider the dosage instructions. Overdoing it on sleep supplements is certain to yield unpleasant results and unwanted side effects.
If you suffer from sleep deficiency or insomnia, you’re not alone. It’s a common condition that can be highly detrimental to your quality of life. Poor sleep leads to daytime sleepiness, a loss of productivity, and can even increase the risk of mental and physical health problems.
After dealing with insomnia myself, I learned firsthand just how important of a role nutrition plays in sleep. This led me to implement a strategy that addresses the nutritional needs of my body, and insomnia no longer feels like a threat to my general well-being.
By applying these tips and making sure you’re getting the necessary nutrients, you can help improve your sleep too.