If you are among the many that are trying their best to reduce the factors that contribute to poor sleep – such as the blue light from your screens, being in a high-stress career, sitting down for a major part of the day, not getting sufficient sunlight, and so on – you may not have considered that nutrition plays a major role in how you sleep at night.
You are not alone though. Millions of people are suffering from sleep disorders, and a majority of cases go undiagnosed. These are mostly due to unhealthy eating habits that many people have today, although other factors can play a role. The signs of sleep disorders include daytime drowsiness, anxiety, sleeping on your belly, depression, grinding teeth, brain fog, being prone to clumsiness or accidents, and so on.
What roles do the foods you eat play in how you sleep, and consequently your alertness levels during the day? Read on to find out.
How does the gut influence your sleep cycle?
If you are reading this article, we are sure you have heard about the advice of getting to hit your IKEA mattress at the same time every day and waking up at the same time. All of this is due to the circadian rhythm, which regulates all your body functions. When it is off, it therefore affects your sleep quality severely, which in turn compromises the health of your gut.
The gut and brain are directly connected to each other, and a disruption in one will affect the other immediately. In fact, some studies suggest that the circadian rhythm and microbial rhythm of the gut influence each other, which affects the quality of your sleep.
The linkages between the two
Disruption of sleep happens when you eat too little or too much
Just before your bedtime, you can promote sleep by having a light snack. However, eating too much food or nothing at all can compromise your digestive process, which leads to nighttime wakefulness – especially in the case of eating too much.
Alcohol affects sleep quality
Alcohol is more of a double-edged sword than anything else because of its effects on serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that regulates sleep and relaxation. On one hand, a little amount of it helps you sleep, but the sleep cycle becomes fragmented as the metabolism process continues and you end up sleeping poorly.
In addition, the more alcohol you consume, the more you interfere with your overall sleep quality. In fact, insomnia is made worse through alcohol consumption, and it also impairs REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) – this is the sleep stage when the body is restoring itself. You may also be unaware of it, but alcohol dehydrates you and leaves you feeling exhausted when you wake up.
Caffeine interferes with sleep
For certain people drinking beverages that contain caffeine such as soda, or eating food that contains caffeine, will disrupt their sleep cycle. If you happen tobe among the people sensitive to it, the best decision is avoiding it in the evenings and afternoons.
Reduce the fat intake
Healthy fats are a good thing – but they can also become a source of discomfort in the form of heartburn and indigestion, when you consume too much. If you usually have a high-fat meal before bed, reduce the intake or take it earlier in the day so that you have less chances of disturbing your sleeping patterns.
Drinking too much fluids before bedtime
There are few things that disrupt sleep as much as waking up to go to the bathroom. If you want to avoid this issue, avoid the idea of drinking fluids after your dinner – this will reduce the chances of waking up in the middle of the night, and you will sleep better.
Eating late at night
Generally, eating heavy meals at night before you sleep is a bad idea, because it interferes with your sleep quality. In particular, if you suffer from acid reflex or heartburn, never take heavy meals before bed because they delay the emptying of your stomach. When you lay down with a full stomach, it encourages the acidic and gastric juices to enter the esophagus, which leads to heartburn and poor sleep.
Interestingly honey and milk promote sleep
Ever had a glass of warm milk and immediately felt sleepy afterwards? This is because milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is also a natural sleep inducer from your diet. The amino acid encourages the brain to produce serotonin, which is a natural sedative and helps you fall asleep.
The reason why honey is included is because it is a simple sugar. For the brain to absorb tryptophan more efficiently, it needs the presence of carbohydrates – especially simple ones.
Another example is a turkey sandwich, as turkey meat contains tryptophan and the sandwich is carbohydrates. In addition, a banana combined with milk will give you vitamin B6, which facilitates the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
Some useful herbs to use
There are numerous herbs in nature that prove to be helpful for relaxation and sleep, with the most popular one being valerian. Research has also been done before on the valerian herb, and findings show that its roots contain active ingredients that relax the smooth muscle tissue and dress the CNS (Central Nervous System).
Brewing it in tea or taking it in the form of a capsule can reduce the time you take to fall asleep, so can be helpful for insomnia patients. The good news is that it does not create dependencies, unlike numerous other drugs, and it does not lead to a ‘hungover’ feeling either. However, you are not allowed to use it if you are breastfeeding or pregnant, as studies have not found whether it is suitable.
Other herbs exist as well, which can be safer alternatives. They include chamomile, lemon balm, hops, and peppermint, although not much evidence exists to show that they work.
The link between your gut and sleep cannot be underestimated, as they directly affect each other. Because of that, it is important to pay close attention to the foods you consume, as they have a bearing on how you sleep.