We all know nutrition provides our bodies with fuel for the day, but what we eat also affects how we power down at night. Research has found that certain nutrients in food can affect sleep, from how easy it is to fall asleep at a reasonable hour to the quality of rest we get throughout the night.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

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Why Caffeine Screws Up Your Sleep

Have you ever caught yourself wishing you wouldn’t have had that post-dinner coffee? Many people complain that they have sleeping problems and therefore need caffeinated products to stay awake or keep them going throughout the day. However at the end of the day you feel worse than you did before you had that wonderful cup of roasted goodness, but why is this?

When the brain feels it’s time for sleep, it tells the body to produce a compound called adenosine. Adenosine is found everywhere in the body and makes us feel tired and thus we sleep well. Caffeine, however, blocks the adenosine receptors in our body and the compound cannot link up with our nerves and neurons. Thus we suddenly do not feel tired anymore, magic! But why is it that we get that nasty “caffeine crash” afterwards?

Well it’s simple, once the caffeine leaves the body like a robber leaves a bank, all the adenosine suddenly joins to our neurons and nerves and as instantly as sleeping gas we feel tired. It’s a nasty cycle because this results in naps and further results in not sleeping at night.

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How Your Diet Is Effecting Your Sleep Every Night

You’ve probably heard that expression “You are what you eat” – and whereas that’s not necessarily literal – it’s unbelievably true. Eat something fresh like fruit and berries and you’ll feel fresh and energetic. Eat something full of MSG and preservatives and you’ll feel as if your body needs a lot of preserving to keep it going.

Studies from a group of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania show how diet correlates with sleeping patterns, “Eat right, sleep tight”, right?

Researchers studied data for a year involving 4,548 people. They looked at how much sleep the participants got based on their dieting patterns, and it was concluded that those who had the shortest hours of sleep a night consumed the most calories. Normal sleepers, however, showed the highest food variety in their diets, and the shorter sleepers had the least variation in what they ate. A varied diet tends to be a marker for good health since it includes multiple sources of nutrients.

Short sleepers were found to consume less vitamin C, tap water and selenium (a compound found in nuts, meat and shellfish), but more lutein or zeaxanthin, which are found in green, leafy vegetables. Long sleep was associated with consuming less theobromine, which is found in chocolate and tea, saturated fat, eggs and fatty meats and in general carbohydrates.

So What Can You Eat for Better Sleep?

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While both studies used self-report data and looked at possible correlations rather than definitive causation, this information could be helpful when considering your own diet. Certain nutrients consistently stood out as beneficial for sleep, so incorporating more into your diet could be a smart move. The dietary sources of the nutrients below come from the USDA Nutrient Database.

  1. Lycopene is an antioxidant primarily found in red fruits and vegetables. Top sources include guava, watermelon, cooked tomatoes and products with tomatoes, papaya, grapefruit, red peppers, red cabbage, asparagus and parsley.
  2. Folate, or vitamin B9, is essential for many bodily functions. Top sources include lentils, beans, asparagus, avocado, spinach, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables.
  3. Phosphorus is a mineral important for energy metabolism, cell repair and more. Top sources include pumpkin seeds, cheese, fish, shellfish, brazil nuts, lean meat, low fat dairy, tofu and lentils.
  4. Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties. Top sources include brazil nuts, fish, shrimp, turkey, chicken, beef, and whole grains.
  5. Vitamin C is important for renewing and repairing tissues, iron absorption and other functions. It’s abundant in many fruits and vegetables, with top sources being bell peppers, guava, leafy greens, kiwi, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes and peas.

Conclusion

So basically, the greater variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains you eat, the better your chance of getting diverse minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that help promote overall health and good sleep.