Struggling to wake up, relying on caffeine as a mid-day crutch and lying awake in the middle of the night are all too common for lots of women. But being a 'poor sleeper' is not something you simply have to accept and put up with.
There are a whole spectrum of healthful habits you can adopt to improve your sleep routine and reap the amazing health benefits - and optimising your nutrition is one of them. Read on to learn how nutrition and sleep can work in synergy to help you become the healthiest, happiest and most well-rested version of yourself!
Treating the Root Cause of Poor Sleep
Poor sleep can manifest as a whole spectrum of physical signs and symptoms which many of us try to banish with stimulants, prescription medicines or else don’t even realise are a result of poor sleep in the first place.
Stress1, brain fog2, poor concentration3, lack of productivity4, weight gain5 and even our appearance6 are all worsened by lack of sleep. The poorer your sleep quality, the worse these symptoms become, and so chronic poor sleep can really take its toll on your overall health and wellbeing7.
To improve sleep and alleviate these symptoms for good, a holistic approach to wellbeing is needed. Nutrition, hydration, exercise, mindfulness and sleep tracking are all invaluable tools when it comes to maximising sleep hygiene8 and getting the best quality sleep possible.
Nutrition and sleep are intrinsically connected9 and nourishing your body and mind is one of the best (and easiest) ways to improve your sleep quality. Read on to discover the wonderful symbiosis of sleep and nutrition.
Eat, Sleep, Nourish Repeat!
Embracing the nutrients your body needs to promote sleep is the healthiest, most natural and most sustainable way to optimise your sleep routine.
Incorporating sleep-enhancing nutrients into your everyday can help to boost quantity and quality of sleep…
What To Embrace
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there10, providing a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help to promote sleep.
Studies have shown that vitamin deficiencies can induce sleep disturbance (Vitamin B6) and shorten the sleep-wake cycle11 (Vitamin B12). On the other hand, optimal vitamin intake can help to alleviate sleep disturbance symptoms such as nocturnal leg cramps12 (B Vitamin Complex).
Minerals are also super important for optimising sleep. Research has shown that Magnesium and Iron can help to reverse age-related alterations in sleep routines in older adults13.
Studies have also found that sleep quality and duration are positively associated with adequate Magnesium, Iron and Zinc levels, but negatively associated with deficiencies in Copper and Potassium13.
Natural, wholefood plants such as fruit and veg are great sources of both vitamins and minerals needed to maximise your sleep quality and quantity.
Foods High in Fibre
A diet rich in fibre has been shown to promote deeper, more restorative sleep with fewer arousals that disrupt sleep14. This is interesting because most women in the UK fall short of their recommended daily fibre intake by around one third, with the average intake reaching just 17.2g out of a recommended 30g per day15.
Including more wholegrains, lentils, beans, peas, pulses and cereals in your diet can help to boost fibre intake and support sleep quality.
When we eat protein, the body breaks them down into individual amino acids which are used for many functions but also to promote sleep. Two amino acids intrinsically linked with sleep quality are Glycine and Tryptophan.
- Glycine has been found to help you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer and promote a deeper, more restful sleep16
- Tryptophan is a precursor to sleep-inducing compounds serotonin and melatonin, and so has been shown to reduce sleep latency17 (the time it takes us to drift off)
Seeds, nuts, legumes, tofu, soy and plant-based milk alternatives are all good sources of plant-based protein and these sleep-promoting amino acids.
Herbs & Botanicals
Herbs and botanical plants have been found to contain powerful active ingredients which help to modulate sleep. Studies have shown that botanical ingredients have relaxing and soothing properties which can help to encourage sleep onset, reduce nocturnal awakenings and increase the total duration of sleep18.
Herbs such as chamomile, valerian root, passion-flower, lemon balm and hops have been used in traditional medicine for centuries for their adaptogenic and calming properties, helping to reduce stress and promote sleep19.
In the present day, there is ongoing research into the effectiveness of herbal compounds in treating sleep disorders such as insomnia. This would be a triumph in functional medicine – helping to treat the root cause of sleeplessness with natural compounds, whilst avoiding prescription and over the counter medicines which address only the symptoms and bring their own pitfalls and side effects.
What To Avoid
A sleep-promoting diet is as much about the food and drinks you avoid as it is the foods you choose to include…
- Alcohol - For those who struggle to sleep a glass of wine or two in the evening might seem like an easy way to switch off, relax and nod off. But alcohol imbalances our natural sleep cycles and cause us to spend less time in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep20 - the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep which are bodies crave. So getting a good sleep after booze may provide the sleep quantity, but certainly not the quality!
- Excess Caffeine - Caffeine is an all too common crutch for those who struggle to sleep. Caffeine gives us an artificial sense of alertness by inhibiting chemicals in the brain which tell us we are tired21. So, those chemicals are still there but they are simply masked by caffeine. The bad news is that once the effects of caffeine have worn off, you'll be back to square one, feeling just as tired but with the added problem of finding it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep later in the evening.
- Processed Food – High-Carb, High-Sugar ‘junk’ food causes a spike in blood sugar levels which leaves us feeling fatigued later in the day. Just as caffeine gives us an artificial energy surge, so does processed food. Again, this is always short lived and superseded by a net energy slump. Foods high in saturated fat have been shown to increase sleep latency whilst reducing sleep quality and total sleep duration14.
Food for Thought...and Sleep
Nurturing your body with health-boosting superfoods and sleep-enhancing nutrients is Mother Nature's long-term solution to better sleep. By utilising nature's amazing ingredients, you can support your sleep success from within and avoid harmful, addictive and unhelpful stimulants or sleeping pills.
When it comes to optimising your health and becoming the happiest and healthiest version of yourself, making sleep a priority is key. So, don't just sleep on it - incorporate positive changes into your everyday to boost your sleep routine now, and start reaping the amazing healthful benefits.
References Used In This Article:
- Association Between Sleep Duration and Perceived Stress
- Selective Neuronal Lapses Precede Human Cognitive Lapses Following Sleep Deprivation
- Sleep Deprivation: Impact on Cognitive Performance
- Consequences of Insufficient Sleep
- Molecular Ties Between Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain
- Does Poor Sleep Quality Affect Skin Aging?
- Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders
- 20 Science Backed Ways to Fall Asleep Naturally
- Effect of Diet on Sleep Quality
- Nutrient Dense Plant-Based Foods You Should Eat Everyday
- Vitamins and Sleep: An Exploratory Study
- Efficacy of Vitamin B Complex in the Treatment of Nocturnal Leg Cramps
- The Relationship Between Micronutrient Status and Sleep Patterns
- Fibre and Saturated Fat are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep
- British Nutrition Foundation: Dietary Fibre
- 4 Sleep Benefits of Glycine
- Effects of L-Tryptophan on Sleepiness and on Sleep
- Evaluation of Effectiveness and Safety of a Herbal Compound in Primary Insomnia Symptoms and Sleep Disturbances
- Herbal Medicine for Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia
- Sleep, Sleepiness and Alcohol Use
- Effects of Caffeine on Sleep Quality and Daytime Functioning