A healthy diet rich in sleep promoting foods and nutrients can help you achieve a more restful night’s sleep
We all strive for a good night’s sleep, but many don’t realize the importance of a healthy diet rich in sleep promoting foods and nutrients in order to achieve a more restful night’s sleep. Specifically, our diet needs to include sleep boosting foods that help to promote the production of serotonin and melatonin.
Melatonin is the neurotransmitter needed in order to help regulate our body’s sleep wake cycle. When we are exposed to darkness, our body increases production of melatonin. When we are exposed to light (both artificial and natural), the production of melatonin is inhibited.
However, there is more to the production of melatonin than just the light and darkness that controls our circadian rhythm. Serotonin is a well known neurotransmitter that is responsible for a number of functions. Namely, it is well known for boosting mood; but importantly, it is also the precursor to melatonin. This means that in order to jump start our melatonin production, we first need a boost in serotonin.
Let’s touch on two important ways that humans produce serotonin. Firstly, sunlight exposure increases our levels of vitamin D1, and vitamin D boosts our serotonin levels. This is one of the reasons why sunlight exposure in the late afternoon can be a helpful way to get better sleep, as serotonin is the precursor to the much needed neurotransmitter for sleep: melatonin. This is one of the many reasons I highly advise my clients to ensure that their infants and young children get outdoor time each and every day.
A second important way that humans produce serotonin is in the gut. Research has shown that approximately 95% of the body’s serotonin is in the gut2. Specifically, ingesting tryptophan can help to produce both serotonin and melatonin. This is why foods containing high levels of tryptophan are commonly known as sleep boosting foods, such as turkey and dairy3. Focusing on meals rich in protein, alongside carbohydrates, for the last meal of the day, can ensure the body’s successful uptake of tryptophan, which can help improve sleep.
While eating foods high in tryptophan can be sleep boosting, there are also anti-sleep foods. Some of these foods are anti-sleep because they raise our blood sugar levels. A study was conducted that looked at poor REM sleep and the absorption of glucose. This spikes your blood sugars, which in turn affects insulin, and that is going to make you more hungry, which may lead to more interrupted sleep. Additionally, when you are not sleeping well, your cortisol levels rise, and cortisol will release more glucose, which increases your blood sugars and subsequently insulin, and you’ll have a greater appetite. With these higher insulin levels, it makes it quite difficult to lose weight. Moreover, eating foods high in sugar before bed keep blood sugars elevated while you sleep, which overworks your kidneys and causes a larger production of urine. This can result in more nighttime awakenings to use the washroom4.
Further, as we consume more sugar and carbohydrates, our bodies crave these in order to stabilize our blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates are not a sustainable form of energy, leading to only short bursts of energy. Because of this, sleeping through the night is very challenging. The cycle continues day after day, and as sleep decreases, blood sugar increases. Moreover, this lack of sleep forces us to wake up each morning craving the very thing that has put us into this cycle to begin with.
Focusing on a balanced, healthy diet impacts so much more than the way we look: it truly impacts the way our bodies function. If we strive to live long, healthy lives, the cornerstone to our success starts with a good night’s sleep.
- Augustine, Little Flower et al. “Sun exposure as a strategy for acquiring vitamin D in developing countries of tropical region: Challenges & way forward.” The Indian journal of medical research vol. 154,3 (2021): 423-432. doi:10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1244_18
- Berger, Miles et al. “The expanded biology of serotonin.” Annual review of medicine vol. 60 (2009): 355-66. doi:10.1146/annurev.med.60.042307.110802
- “Top Foods High in Tryptophan.” WebMD, 22 November 2022, https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-tryptophan
- “Lack of Sleep and Diabetes.” Sleep Foundation, 6 January 2023, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/lack-of-sleep-and-diabetes#:~:text=When%20blood%20sugar%20levels%20are,can%20interfere%20with%20falling%20asleep.