Food plays a vital role in getting a good night’s sleep, something Graham talks about in his book Workfuel. Eating before bed though will offer occasional relief at best and isn’t a viable long-term strategy.
An important understanding for better nights sleep is that, as diurnal beings, humans are not designed to eat at night.
Many use food as a sleep aid because of messengers like tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium that can create a relaxation response by activating melatonin – the sleep hormone.
However, for healthy sleep, melatonin needs to bind with receptors in the pancreas to suppress the release of insulin, the hormone that balances glucose (sugar) in the blood. Eating before bed may stimulate relaxation, but the insulin needed to balance blood sugar will prevent this binding from happening.
For melatonin to be effectual, insulin has to be absent to allow the brain’s hypothalamus to trigger several autonomic sleep processes, like fat burning and cell renewal. If insulin is present, sleep may occur but it’s not as stable or regenerative.
To be “sleep friendly,” a diet needs to help you make energy and melatonin during the day and if you must eat after dark, interfere the least with the natural sleep process.
5 Foods to Eat for Better Sleep
Local and Seasonal Food
When the sunlight in your food is the same as your environment, ATP production in your cell’s mitochondria is most effective at creating a chemical byproduct known as adenosine. It’s what your sleep clock measures to keep track of your need for sleep.
When the light in your food isn’t a match with your environment there is less ATP production, more inflammation, and less sleep.
An apple from your local farmer’s market results in more ATP production than an apple from a farmer’s market 500 miles due north. So does an apple from a farmer’s market 2,000 miles away, if that market shares a similar latitude and was grown by a similar spectrum of sunlight.
Life evolved from the sea, making DHA (fish oil) the most vital nutrient to circadian rhythm. DHA found in oysters, crustaceans and wild caught fish provides your brain the electricity it needs to make melatonin and transport it to your pineal gland for nighttime release.
Leafy greens contain great nutritional value and even though they are technically a carb, which tend to carry more glucose per gram, they have fewer calories. Unlike other carbs, their intake can help regulate glucose metabolism.
One of the most nutrient dense foods, sea vegetables are rich in the sleep friendly minerals calcium and magnesium, as well as iodine, which is great for lowering inflammation.
Fats have more calories per gram which is good because less becomes more. Healthy fats satiate you faster and sustain you longer by stabilizing blood sugar and regulating insulin. Adding them to your last meal allows you to fast for several hours before sleep begins.
5 Foods to Avoid at Night for Better Sleep
Not all of these foods need to be scratched off your menu entirely, but avoiding them, especially at night, will go a long way toward a good night’s sleep.
Carbohydrates are especially bad at night because of the intense sunlight needed to grow them. The more sunlight food has, the more your brain will respond hormonally as if it is daytime.
For healthy consumption, try restricting carbohydrate intake from sunrise to a couple of hours before sunset.
Sugar from sweets will spike sugar and insulin more than any other food.
Eating larger meals, versus snacking in between them, can help store glucose in the liver more efficiently and less often, eliminating the blood sugar spikes that cause late night sugar cravings.
While fruits like kiwis and bananas often get touted for their links to melatonin, they also contain the most carbs and glucose of any fruit. Both the stimulating message from sunlight and blood sugar spikes can hinder kip more than help it.
Although they can be very beneficial, nightshades contain alkaloids which can be extremely inflammatory, as well as oxalic acid, which depletes the body of calcium, an important precursor to melatonin synthesis. Eliminating them for a period of time is a good idea until sleep improves.
Caffeine from coffee helps you feel alert by blocking the brain’s reception of adenosine, tricking the brain into thinking you don’t need sleep.
While most advice suggests you cut coffee by a certain time of day, you should know that adenosine blockage by caffeine never dissipates completely, no matter what time you consume it.
It all starts in the Kitchen
Food plays an important role with sleep, sometimes more so than having a quality mattress at home does, though foods role is more indirect, when food turns to energy and that energy output is measured by the sleep clock in the brain.
Try eating foods during the day that most easily turn into energy and help with melatonin production. If you must eat at night, eating healthy fats and avoiding carbs will set you up best for stable and regenerative sleep.
Now that you know how to improve your sleep, put all that new found energy into tackling your productivity by checking out our Attention Management workshops!