The foods we eat play an important role in how we look and how we feel — but did you know that your diet also impacts your quality of sleep and vice versa? When we eat well, we are more likely to enjoy a better night’s sleep. At the same time, when we’re well-slept, we’re more likely to make better food choices.
With one in 3 Australians and New Zealanders saying they don’t get enough sleep, a good night’s rest is more important than ever.
Sleep-supporting food and drinks can help us balance our stress levels, get to sleep naturally, and stay asleep. Beyond avoiding coffee and other stimulants, there are a number of changes that we can make to our diet in order to promote a calm, restful, and restorative sleep.
So, how can we ensure that our diet is helping our sleep instead of hindering it? Read on to learn more about the link between our diet and sleep, as well as 6 of the best sleep supporting food and drink ingredients to try if you want to improve your sleep quality.
The link between diet and sleep quality
A balanced diet is one pillar of a healthy lifestyle, along with regular exercise and quality sleep. Eating a balanced combination of foods allows our body to absorb essential nutrients, which our brain uses to create the right chemical environment for sleep.
Foods that are high in tryptophan, glutamine, and glycine can help us achieve a better night’s sleep. This is because these amino acids form the building blocks of proteins and vitamins that produce serotonin, (a chemical that creates a feeling of well-being and relaxation) and melatonin, (a hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycles). Here’s the catch: our body cannot make some amino acids, such as tryptophan, which means we need to obtain these from our diet through tryptophan foods.
On top of this, when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. The timing of meals helps regulate our circadian rhythm, an internal clock that keeps our body functions (such as the sleep-wake cycle and hunger cues) running on schedule. When we shift our eating times, we disrupt our normal circadian rhythms, causing less distinction between day and night and throwing our sleep cycle out of whack. Being mindful of when we eat is an important way to help maintain healthy body clocks.
Dr. Carmel Harrington, author of The Sleep Diet and A.H. Beard’s resident sleep expert, has long recognised the importance of diet in our ability to sleep well.
“Basically, foods that enhance sleep assist the processes of sleep. Our body and brain require certain proteins, vitamins, and minerals in order to produce melatonin and serotonin — hormones that are fundamental to our ability to sleep well. Cutting back on processed foods and increasing our whole-food intake can have a really positive effect on our sleep,” said Dr. Harrington.
6 ingredients to look for in sleep-supporting food and drink
1. Sleep-supporting adaptogens
Adaptogenic ingredients are known for their ability to combat stress and boost immunity. These can put us in a more relaxed state and help us wind down at the end of the day — and, in turn, promote a restful sleep. Ingredients such as tulsi (a medicinal herb used in Ayurveda, also known as holy basil), reishi mushroom, cordyceps, and lion’s mane all include adaptogens and can be incorporated into bedtime routines in the form of calming teas, beverages or bedtime snacks.
2. Ayurvedic ingredients
Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system that has its roots in the Indian subcontinent. Ayurvedic therapies typically involve herbal compounds, including Indian ginseng, turmeric and ashwagandha, which have been shown to improve sleep and protect against symptoms of sleep deprivation.
These ayurvedic ingredients are also adaptogens, and typically come in the form of beverages such as teas, juices, elixirs, and caffeine-free lattes.
3. Forest botanicals
Other adaptogens, such as valerian root, lavender, chamomile, poppy, rose and passionflower are growing in popularity as a natural option for sleep-supporting serotonin food and drink. Teas, sleep tonics and other botanical infusions are a great way to promote drowsiness and promote relaxation before bedtime.
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. This is a naturally occurring amino acid that has been shown to boost cognitive function, impact our energy levels, relieve anxiety, and promote sleep. Foods rich in magnesium or probiotics, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, sprouted brown rice and kefir, can stimulate natural GABA production in the brain and aid in getting a quality night’s rest.
5. Melatonin-enriched cow’s milk or malted milk
Dairy is a natural source of the sleep-inducing tryptophan amino acid, and most of us know that drinking a glass of warm milk before bedtime can help ease us into sleep. However, if you’re drinking a glass of milk in the evening and still having trouble sleeping, it may be worth trying ‘night milk’. This natural melatonin-enriched milk is obtained by milking cows at night and contains higher levels of tryptophan and melatonin, both of which aid in an uninterrupted and restful sleep. Malted milk has also been shown to have sleep-promoting effects.
6. Oily fish
Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout, are brimming with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these nutrients are important to the regulation of serotonin, as our bodies use serotonin to produce the melatonin hormone. Consuming fatty fish at least 3 times per week can improve our sleep quality and sleep efficiency.
5 additional sleep diet tips:
- Limit caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, as caffeine inhibits the production of melatonin and can stay in your bloodstream for up to six hours after consuming it. This includes coffee, tea, and even dark chocolate.
- Avoid alcohol. While a glass of vino can make you feel drowsy, studies have shown that it actually disturbs your quality of sleep and messes with your sleep cycle.
- Stay away from spicy or fatty foods. These are more challenging for your stomach to digest, which in turn may make it harder for your body to relax and drift off.
- Don’t go to bed on a completely empty stomach, as this can keep you awake. Opt for tryptophan, serotonin or melatonin foods, such as these 15 scientifically proven foods to help sleep.
- Limit consumption of food sleep thieves such as citrus, pizza or red meat. By steering clear of these sleep thieves late at night, you will be on your way to a much healthier night’s sleep.
Having a balanced diet is just one part of getting a quality night’s rest. In addition to eating right, it’s important to get regular exercise and create the ideal sleep environment for a good night’s rest.
King Koil by A.H. Beard mattresses provide unsurpassed support and minimise partner disturbance, helping you to sleep soundly through the night. With the right food and a comfortable mattress, you’ll enjoy a deeper, more restful sleep — and wake up feeling more energised, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the day.