What you eat and how well you sleep are the two factors that dictate how you feel on a daily basis. With a good night’s rest and proper nutrition, you can feel like you’re on top of the world. Crap food and bad sleep are more likely to make you feel like the world is ending.
Why are sleep and nutrition so intricately related?
Both sleep and wakefulness are controlled by a series of chemical reactions in the body that regulate your circadian rhythm. Certain nutrients affect them to alter how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night, and how you feel the next day.
For example, we typically think of cortisol as a stress hormone, but it is also a metabolic hormone that is released as blood glucose drops. Skipping meals, or eating a diet high in refined carbs, will lead to blood sugar irregularities and elevated cortisol. A day of poor eating and non-stop stress means cortisol will be elevated at night, impairing sleep. Fortunately, certain foods can help offset this, counteracting that jittery, depleted feeling so that you are able to recover with a decent night’s rest.
What follows are foods that can help regulate your circadian rhythm for better energy during the day and deeper sleep at night.
#1: Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals that raise melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep and aids in regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm. Melatonin can directly influence your body’s core temperature as well as the sleep-wake cycle, making optimal levels at nighttime critical for sleep. Sports scientists like tart cherry juice because it can reduce inflammatory markers that inhibit sleep along with improving melatonin.
#2: Almonds & Walnuts
Almonds and walnuts are another melatonin-boosting food and they contain plenty of magnesium, the mineral best known for its calming benefits. Magnesium’s role in promoting sleep is thought to be due to its ability to reduce stress and allow the body to metabolize cortisol. Magnesium also calms the central nervous system and has been shown to aid sleep quality and quantity in people with mild insomnia.
#3: Chamomile Tea
Chamomile has a sedative effect by providing apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in the brain that promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. Chamomile also provides flavones—inflammation banishing compounds that improve immune function and reduce anxiety and depression. Research suggests chamomile can calm the brain and help you get to sleep sooner.
Kiwi fruits provide another chemical that has a soothing, feel good effect on the brain—serotonin. Low serotonin is one reason that people on low-carb diets can have trouble sleeping at night. Improving serotonin levels can help you get to sleep faster and increase ability to sleep through the night by about 10 percent for a more restorative experience. In a 4-week study, adults who ate two kiwis before bed, improved total sleep time by 13 percent.
Best known for its omega-3 fats that appear to improve serotonin release, salmon also provides vitamin D, which is an essential sleep nutrient that many people are deficient in, particularly during the winter months. In one study of insomniacs, supplementing with vitamin D to allow vitamin D blood values to reach normal completely restored sleep.
#6: Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are naturally high in the amino acid tryptophan from which the body manufactures the soothing neurotransmitter serotonin. Compared to animal proteins, seeds, beans, and nuts may be helpful for improving serotonin because they provide a higher ratio of tryptophan to large neutral amino acids such as the BCAAs, which compete with tryptophan for transport across the blood brain barrier. That said, there is evidence that diets higher in protein can improve overall sleep quality, however, it is recommended that protein be consumed throughout the day rather than right before bedtime.
#7: Garbanzo Beans
Best known for being used to make hummus, garbanzo beans are the perfect evening snack because they are high in tryptophan but lower in the BCAAs that compete for entry across the blood brain barrier. Garbanzo beans are a good source of complex carbs, and provide magnesium, vitamin B6, and thiamine—all of which can aid in relaxation and better sleep.
Blueberries and other purple and red fruits that are rich in antioxidants can lower inflammation that impairs sleep. They also provide a nice dose of slow-digesting carbs to improve serotonin release and help relieve stress after a long day. Plums, pomegranates, and all the berries are all good choices for after dinner dessert or a bedtime snack.
#9: Passionflower Tea
Passionflower tea provides an array of inflammation-fighting antioxidants including apigenin, which has a calming effect on brain receptors. In addition, passionflower may increase production of GABA, the inhibitory, soothing neurotransmitter that counteracts other brain chemicals that induce stress. In one study, drinking passionflower tea before bed led to improved sleep quality compared to a placebo.
Bananas are a nutrient-rich complex carbs that provide prebiotic fiber, which can improve gut health. This is important because as much as 2/3 of the neurotransmitters that regulate wakefulness and sleep are made in the GI tract. Additionally, bananas raise melatonin and are high in potassium and magnesium—a combination that can calm the central nervous system, allowing restful sleep.