It’s not a subject that comes up often when looking at solutions to poor sleep, but nutrition can have a much bigger impact on your sleep cycle than you could imagine. There is such a variety of foods and beverages to ingest, it’s difficult to wade through the options and decide the items that are good (and those that are bad) for a great night’s sleep.
The sleep villains are a little easier to identify, so let’s start with those siesta banditos! In the lead, we have a cast of the Most Wanted felons: caffeine and nicotine. You may think you’ve allowed plenty of time between your last cup of coffee and your smoke, but you’d probably be wrong. Caffeine and nicotine both have a very long lasting effect on body chemistry.
Director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, Carl E. Hunt, MD, says “The most obvious one in terms of stimulating wakefulness would be caffeine, and then there’s nicotine.”
If you’d like to continue with the top offenders, add alcohol. That nice little nightcap you thought was rocking you off to dreamland is probably doing just that. However, give it just a little time in your system, and the soothing effect it had on your jangling nerves is going to shorten your REM cycle, and jolt you back awake quite prematurely.
It can put you to sleep, but it won’t keep you asleep. And as a crueler effect, Chris Idzikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre notes “Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”
Rounding out the last top few positions on the bad guy list are: spicy foods (because of their tendency to cause acid reflux), dairy (especially for those who are even slightly lactose intolerant), and sugar.
Now that you’re ready to hear some good news, here it is: one of the best things you can do for a consistent good night’s sleep is to exercise regularly, and eat right.
In a sleep study designed by principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, in a press statement, said “Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality.”
“We don’t know 100 percent for sure, but we think that the increase in the sugars and the fats actually move your circadian rhythm, sleep medicine specialist Michael Breus reported. “It turns people into night owls and it pushes their melatonin production later, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Exercise engaged earlier in the day will actually help you sleep at night. Regular exercise during daytime will do wonders according to studies. Exercise can keep blood pressure, sleep, weight and cholesterol in check. And according to several studies, workouts can relieve stress, which is yet another main cause of sleeplessness.
What are the foods you can ingest for better sleep? According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, these foods contain the following vitamins and minerals for an uninterrupted snooze:
Selenium: in turkey, nuts, tuna, shellfish and cod.
Lycopene: an antioxidant that is primarily in fruits and veggies that are red.
Vitamin C: in bell peppers, kale, strawberries and broccoli.
It’s time to acknowledge that we have a sleep issue that doesn’t seem to be improving. In the U.S. we appear to have a reliance on prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications, none of which are helping on a long term basis.
It’s time to start looking at the effects of better diet and nutrition to induce more healthful, and more consistent sleep.