How is your diet affecting your sleep?
How did you sleep last night? If you struggled to fall asleep, became restless in the middle of the night or had disturbing vivid dreams then you probably didn’t sleep well.
There are lots of factors that affect the way that we sleep, but what we eat might be playing a greater role than we realise.
A recent study from the US found that an individual’s body composition and kilojoule intake could influence the time a person spends in specific stages of sleep.
During the study, 36 healthy adults spent two nights in bed at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. While they slept, scientists recorded the physical changes that took place. Other factors such as what participants had eaten and drunk, their body composition and energy expenditure were also recorded.
The researchers found that overweight adults spent more time in the rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep (which is less restorative than non-REM sleep) than adults with a healthy weight.
The study also found that increased protein intake predicted more REM sleep.
Nutritionist Samantha Gemmell says that she is not surprised by the results of the study. “Practitioners have always known that sleep quality and health are linked. It makes complete sense that those with weight issues may get less restorative sleep,” she says.
Gemmell also notes that there is often a vicious cycle at play. “Poor sleep may be one of the mechanisms contributing to a person’s weight issues, or a symptom of the underlying cause,” she explains.
While studies like this show that there is an undisputed link between a person’s weight and the quality of their sleep, there are also links between diet and sleep.
“Sleep and diet go hand in hand – you need good sleep to feel well enough and motivated enough to eat well, and you need plenty of nutrients to get quality sleep,” Gemmell explains.
Gemmell notes that when the sleep/diet relationship is off kilter, it’s easy to fall into a downward spiral. “It’s easy to end up in a situation where you are relying on caffeine and sugar to make it through the day,” she says.
So what changes do we need to make to our diets in order to improve our sleep? Gemmell says that the key message is to focus on ‘real’ food.
“Work out what works best for your body – whether it be avoiding caffeine after lunchtime, eating dinner a few hours before sleep time, or looking into possible food intolerances as a cause of poor sleep,” she says.
Foods that might help improve your sleep include milk, turkey and cheese (which are high in tryptophan – an amino acid thought to help facilitate quality sleep) tart cherry juice (which contains melatonin – a hormone that helps sleep) and calming herbal teas such as chamomile (which can help the body switch off).
Gemmell also notes that foods that are high in magnesium such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains can help to calm the nervous system and relax sore muscles.
If you think that your diet could be having a detrimental effect on your sleep, it is worth investigating this with a qualified health practitioner.
While we all know that caffeinated drinks will wreak havoc with our sleep, there are still some myths around the effect that certain food and drinks have on the amount of shut-eye we get.
One of the biggest sleep ‘myths’ that we hear bandied about is that alcohol will help you get a good night’s sleep. Gemmell says that this is false.
“Alcohol might help you fall asleep quicker, it significantly reduces the quality of your quality of sleep. You’re much more likely to keep waking up every couple of hours,” she explains.
So if you’re fed up of waking up tired, it might be time to review your diet and break out the chamomile.
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