Overall lifestyle and dietary habits can play a huge part in sleep quality. Stress, excess caffeine, alcohol and overly processed foods can impact on sleep and sleep quality. When it comes to specific nutrients a diet low in B vitamins can contribute to poor sleep. B vitamins are essential for the production of serotonin (neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep). Other nutrients can also be indirectly linked to sleep. For example, magnesium and calcium work together to relax and contract muscles. Deficiency in either one of these has been linked to cramping, muscle spasms and increased stress which can all effect sleep. Include calcium and magnesium rich foods in the diet such as dairy, wholegrains, nuts and green veg.
When it comes to getting a better night’s sleep, the saying ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper’ could be useful for just this! Equally though those that drastically cut calories in their diet are more likely to wake up more frequently through the night with disturbed sleep, so the key is to eat sufficient calories to fuel your day, from nutrient dense foods but eating the lighter of the meals/snacks closer to bedtime. A large fat laden meal (dinner)/snack can make us feel drowsy but won’t help us sleep because this type of meal will stimulate prolonged digestive action. In addition, spicy foods or foods that induce gas can result in sleep problems; dishes rich in garlic, cayenne and chillies before bed can cause issues. Also, take-away foods that contain the taste enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) can cause disturbed sleep and sometimes nightmares or intense dreaming in some people.
Include protein rich foods with dinner such as fish or chicken and but then have a carbohydrate-rich low-fat snack before bed. This not only prevents digestive issues but it also helps to boost serotonin before bed as serotonin regulates sleep. The amino acid tryptophan is a building block for serotonin. Although high protein foods are a good source of tryptophan (e.g. turkey, milk), carbohydrate is needed for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. A protein rich snack on its own contains other amino acids which can compete with tryptophan for absorption and entry into the brain. Consequently, a serotonin rise is not produced, and sometimes it could even be lowered. A better snack would be a carbohydrate rich snack such as plain popcorn, a small bowl of oats, baked apple or some wholegrain toast with a small spread of jam.
However ultimately if your diet is poor, the chances are your sleeping patterns will also be poor regardless of what you eat before bedtime. Although making small changes such as avoiding caffeine and processed foods close to bedtime and eating a small carbohydrate-rich snack may help towards a better night’s sleep!