The benefits of getting adequate sleep are numerous, including a stronger immune system, improved mood and a lower risk of chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, many people struggle with sleeping problems. Did you know that your nutrition can have an effect on your sleep?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, which occurs when one has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting enough good quality sleep. Brief episodes of insomnia that last less than three months, often fading with time, are experienced by about 30 percent of adults. However, 10 percent of adults report experiencing chronic insomnia with sleeping difficulties occurring at least three nights per week and lasting for many months. Furthermore, short-term insomnia can turn into chronic insomnia.
While insomnia may impact people of all ages, it is more common among women. There are many causes for sleep problems ranging from stress and travel to medical conditions and poor sleep hygiene. If you are experiencing insomnia or other sleep disorders it is important to speak with your physician to get back on track with your sleep.
Disrupted sleep is not only frustrating, but can come along with negative consequences. Falling asleep unintentionally during the day or while driving is reported on average at least once per month by those with sleep disorders. Other risks of poor sleep include trouble concentrating, decreased performance at school or work, increased gastrointestinal symptoms and increased rates of mental health conditions to name a few.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally made in the body and helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. While darkness signals the body to make more melatonin, light decreases melatonin production, causing one to experience more wakefulness. Some people who have difficulty sleeping have low levels of melatonin. Melatonin is most commonly taken as a supplement for insomnia and to improve sleep under certain circumstances such as jet lag. While it is reported that melatonin can shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, results are conflicting and results may be minimal for some people.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, also known as a chemical messenger that sends signals into the body, and is involved in the regulation of appetite, mood and sleep. The essential amino acid tryptophan is needed to make serotonin and melatonin in the body. A diet that promotes healthy levels of serotonin and melatonin is important for those wanting to optimize their sleep.
Here are some dietary approaches to help support healthy sleep:
Eat Foods Rich in Tryptophan
Because the body cannot make tryptophan, it is important to get this amino acid from animal and plant sources. Chicken, beef and salmon as well as soybeans, pumpkin seeds, milk and eggs are rich in tryptophan.
Eat Foods Rich in Melatonin
While melatonin is readily available in supplement form, many of the best sources of dietary melatonin are also nutrient-dense and delicious. Top foods that are sources of naturally occurring melatonin include tart cherries, goji berries, tomatoes, corn, walnuts, oats and fish.
Steer Away from Foods and Beverages that Hinder Sleep
Caffeine is an obvious culprit that interferes with falling asleep. Watch out for caffeine in beverages like coffee, tea and energy drinks. Guarana and cacao are significant sources of caffeine that should be monitored in those trying to catch more Z’s. Limiting the total amount of caffeine consumed as well as adhering to an afternoon caffeine cut off time can help. Instead opt for relaxing teas in the evening such as chamomile, passion flower and lemon balm tea.
Beverages that contain alcohol should also be monitored and potentially reduced. While alcoholic beverages may make you feel sleepy initially, they are known to reduce sleep quality.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. You can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.