If you're committed to getting your overall health in order, one of the first lifestyle factors you should look at is sleep. The quality and duration of your sleep cycles affect everything from hormone levels and weight gain to cardiovascular health and chronic conditions. So, what’s the secret to getting good sleep?
Along with regular exercise and supplements, proper nutrition can support healthy sleep. If you want restful sleep sessions each night, you must keep up with your nutrition during the day. From understanding what to eat for good sleep to finding healthy alternatives for traditional sleep aids, nutrition is an essential component for enhanced sleep.
How Proper Nutrition Supports Healthy Sleep
Before you examine how proper nutrition supports healthy sleep, it’s helpful to look at how a lack of sleep affects the human body. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, it alters sympathetic nervous system activity, which is one of the three divisions of the autonomic that controls sleep and digestion, impairs glucose tolerance which is the body’s ability to process sugars, and alters hormonal levels. That’s not all: sleeping fewer than seven hours per night puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and poor cardiovascular health outcomes.
Potentially, poor cardiovascular health could result in a chronic condition like varicose veins. In turn, varicose veins could lead to issues like restless leg syndrome, which would further affect the quality and amount of sleep you’re getting each night. To put a stop to this vicious cycle, studies have shown that proper nutrition can improve the effect of these conditions allowing for better sleep.
Hopefully, at this point, the connection between nutrition and sleep is clear. For a less extreme example, you can likely recall a personal experience with how a particular food or drink affects your energy levels. While there’s no single food that is guaranteed to help with sleep, research suggests that there are some foods that may make getting a good night’s rest easier.
What to Eat for Good Sleep
Wondering what to put in (and leave out of) your grocery cart for better sleep? The answers range from predictable to unexpected. There’s a good chance you’re aware of the advice to limit caffeine intake, but research suggesting that kiwis, tart cherry juice, and nuts can improve sleep might surprise you.
In one study, participants who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime reported that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and slept better. The results of another study showed that individuals who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day had a higher total sleep time and greater sleep efficiency. Nuts such as walnuts and almonds are known to reduce inflammation, which can help people sleeping with chronic back pain.
Another food to consider adding to your diet is cilantro. Many recipes use cilantro, and the herb has myriad benefits due to its qualities as a natural sedative. The benefits of cilantro include decreased anxiety and improved sleep. An easy way to start incorporating cilantro into your diet is by making your own salad dressings. Use it with olive oil for additional sleep benefits.
Almost as important as what you eat is when you eat. Consuming food late in the evening can mean you’re still digesting at bedtime, which increases your risk of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more severe type of reflux condition that requires specific treatment to alleviate the symptoms. Similarly, even if alcohol initially makes you feel sleepy, it can disrupt your sleep cycles.
Healthy Alternatives to Traditional Sleep Aids
Many people rely on a glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage to help them unwind at the end of the day. Others depend on prescription drugs for assistance drifting off to dreamland. As you overhaul your diet for better sleep, it’s a good time to explore healthy alternatives to traditional sleep aids.
If you’re one of the 25% of Americans who experience acute insomnia each year, you might want to consider adding supplements to your diet for additional nutritional support. If you want to stick to nutritional-based supplements for your sleep aids, look no further than magnesium. Not only is it one of the most plentiful minerals on the planet, but it’s also considered a macromineral and is critical to health. You can find it in dark, leafy greens, coffee, chocolate, and many varieties of nuts. But you may also benefit from taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium regulates neurotransmitters, which send signals through the nervous system to the brain. These signals include the ones that tell our bodies to go to sleep. It does so much more, including helping with migraines.
When it comes to your overall health, few factors are as influential as sleep. If you’re serious about improving your health in 2021, then your diet must support healthy sleep. From utilizing natural sleep aids to incorporating research-backed foods for good sleep into your diet, recognizing the impact nutrition has on sleep is an important step toward better health in the new year and beyond.