We all know our diet plays a big part in our overall health. But what we choose to eat during the day can also impact how well we sleep at night. So what foods should you be focusing on to help you on your way to sweet dreams?
How can you tell if you're getting enough sleep? It's actually not rocket science... If you don't feel tired during the day, you're probably good to go! But if you are struggling to get up in the morning and feel drowsy or sluggish at your desk everyday, you probably need more shut eye.
How do you figure out what’s causing this? As it turns out, that’s not always quite so simple. Well, if you've been out partying all night, then it's a bit of a no-brainer... But it's not always down to those late bedtimes. There are many things that can affect the quality of your sleep, including what you choose to eat.
Our health is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. There are lots of different pieces that need to fit together to make us feel our best – and our diet plays a big part in this.
That phrase “you are what you eat” didn't come from nowhere. Opting for the right foods at the right time will fuel your body through the day AND can help prep you for some quality zzz's at night.
On the other hand, a poor diet can throw your chances of properly restorative rest out the window.
So what should you be eating to help you on your way to the land of nod? Spoiler alert: We’re not talking corn dogs and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos here...
Quick Energy vs. Good Sleep
There's a growing body of research showing that folks with diets high in refined carbs and fats (think fast foods and sweet treats) sleep less on the whole compared to groups that get plenty of wholegrains and vegetables.
Recent studies have found that animals can rearrange their own circadian rhythms (the internal body clock that governs natural sleep patterns) by diet alone. Too much cake, meat, and junk food leaves our bodies struggling to metabolize all that excess fat and sugar, working overtime to break them down into usable nutrients. This can throw your digestive system into disarray, impacting your body's bedtime routines and robbing you of vital snooze time, when your body and mind are rebuilding, repairing and setting you up for success come sunrise.
The real kicker is that it's all too easy for a cycle to creep in. With too little sleep, you're more likely to give into the lure of sugar and stodgy carbs for that quick energy fix. Plus when you're too tired to prep your meals, you're likely to grab whatever you can on the go, which is often that unhealthy takeout. But you’re not setting yourself up for good sleep with all those empty calories, so you’re going to wake tired yet again and – yup, you’ve guessed it – it’s groundhog day.
Chain-drinking coffee may stick a band-aid over the problem but it's only treating a symptom. We want to cure the disease.
Eat Well to Sleep Well
What can we do to break the cycle and give our body what it needs to sleep well? Start by swapping out those microwave dishes with some handy pots and pans instead. You can also try:
- Square away some time to plan a menu or meal plan for the week.
- Make some changes to what you're buying at the store.
- Eat when your body needs it most.
- Enjoying dinner at dinnertime (not midnight).
Yes, it's going to take a bit of effort but the rewards are more than worth it. Let's break it down a little.
1. Make a Plan
The trouble with food is the good stuff takes a little time (something very few of us seem to have much of). But, with a bit of planning, you can save yourself from slaving over a hot stove and still enjoy wholesome, home-cooked meals.
Spend a half-hour thinking about what you’re going to eat all week (that's breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then make your shopping list around this. Clever prepping means you can scale up.
- How about a week's worth of lunches packed and ready in the fridge to make grab'n'go a healthier, tastier option?
- What about doubling up on your dinner so you can pop a batch in the freezer for a quick meal another night?
- Why not incorporate wholegrains, fruit and healthy fats like natural yogurt into breakfast so you start your day on the right foot?
When time is of the essence, get yourself organized with meals that suit your cooking skills, taste and storage space.
2. Shop Smart
Have you ever noticed how the aisles in your supermarket steer you in a certain direction around the store? They're designed to drive you toward the ultra-processed snacks and boxed meals and soda — all the things that are going to keep you up at night.
Be a savvy shopper instead by skipping as much of the processed stuff as possible. Armed with your super shopping list, make a beeline for the colorful fruit and veggies instead.
3. Mindful Eating
Are you a serial snacker? For most of us, sleep is the longest break we take from eating. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night, we are often grazing our way through the day, picking and nibbling at whatever's close by.
On the flipside, if there's nothing on the conference table or in the breakroom, we can go for long periods of unintentional fasting, when we're just too busy to stop to refuel.
Think about how you space your eating throughout the day to give your body a break, while also avoiding any energy crashes. The golden rule on this one is to only eat when you’re actually hungry, not when you’re “supposed” to eat. If you only feel hungry for a small lunch at 1pm, then that’s great! Trust your body to tell when it’s time to feed.
4. Chow Time, Bed Time
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to that last meal of the day.
Midnight feasts may have sounded fun when you were a kid but eating dinner earlier in the evening can give you the chance to digest your food properly. It also reduces the likelihood of being struck by indigestion or heartburn just as you're laying your weary head down on your pillow.
But make sure you are having enough at dinner, as going to bed with a rumbling tummy is not going to help you drift off to sleep either.
If you do need a snack before you hit the hay, choose wisely. Foods rich in tryptophan (such as bananas, oatmeal, or turkey) have long been touted as good choices, as this amino acid helps in the production of melatonin, which influences how ready we are to snooze.
Getting the right amount of sleep is a vital part of staying healthy. Our bodies depend on plenty of zzz's to repair, restore, and regenerate but there can be many obstacles to this. Eating the right foods at the right times can go a long way to making sure that when you get to bed, you stay there.
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