Some doctors say 6-8, some say 7-9, but the fact is: you need around 7 hours of sleep a night to maintain good health. With working from home, the pandemic, taking care of kids, self-care, exercising and trying to eat a healthy diet, how is it possible to quiet your mind in order to fall asleep at night?
Like so many other afflictions , a lack of sleep can be remedied by what you eat. Warm foods can increase your body temperature which helps you sleep better, some can increase melatonin in your body, and some foods help to lower inflammation and ease aches and pains allowing the mind to drift easily into rapid eye movement sleep (REM). Having a nighttime ritual is essential to prep your mind and body for sleep.
To wake up feeling rejuvenated, clear-headed, and ready for the day, follow along to find which foods can help you sleep.
How can I get a good night’s sleep?
Maybe you started staying up an extra hour to have some time to yourself after putting the kids to sleep. Maybe it’s crunch time at work and you need to put in some extra time to stay on schedule. Or, maybe the general busyness of day to day life makes it hard to turn off your brain, causing you to lay in bed for hours worrying about the next day.
Whatever is happening, you’re sleep deprived and you’re starting to feel the negative health effects. But what are the effects of sleep deprivation?
Symptoms of sleep deprivation
Even though it’s a common problem, the effects of sleep deprivation are powerfully dynamic and not good for your overall health. Sleep deprivation can cause a myriad of symptoms including but not limited to:
- Memory issues: studies in mice show that even short periods of sleep deprivation decreases neuron plasticity–in other words, in the ability of the neuron to adapt–by actually changing the structure of the cell. Recovering consistent sleep repairs the structure. In humans, sleep deprivation is shown to decrease the ability to retain memories.
- Fluctuations in mood: A lack of sleep can cause bad moods, and this effect is heightened in young adults compared to adults.
- Decreased sex drive: Research shows poor sleep can result in decreased sex drive in men and difficulty in having an orgasm for women.
- Decreased concentration and trouble thinking: Even moderate lack of sleep can result in decreased concentration and decision-making skills. In one study, less than a day of no sleep resulted in worse test performance than a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. Sleep deprivation also causes slowed reaction time as well as longer task-finishing times.
- Higher blood pressure: Lack of sleep can lead to increased blood pressure, even in people with mild to moderate hypertension (high blood pressure). In one study, only a single night’s sleep loss led to a jump in hypertension–researchers attributed the jump to increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which lends the ‘fight or flight’ response.
- Increased risk for diabetes and weight gain: Research shows that there are several ways sleep deprivation can lead to diabetes and obesity–more time to eat (longer wakefulness time), changes in the way your body uses energy, and overall less energy expenditure.
Which foods help sleep?
Sleep-inducing foods fall into two categories: things you should avoid before bed and things you should work into your pre-bedtime routine. If you’re starting to work on your own sleep hygiene, it’s time to take a long look at your set habits in order to see which ones are contributing to restful sleep and which ones are hurting your nightly snooze.
Food and drinks to avoid consuming in the evening before sleeping:
- Caffeinated beverages like soda or coffee: Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps your awake
- Spicy foods: These foods can cause heartburn when lying down. They also increase body temperature–while something gently heated like warm milk can help you sleep, eating lots of spicy foods will just help you sweat.
- Heavy foods like fried foods, beans, meats, and any high-fiber foods are hard to digest and can keep you up at night
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Fatty fish like salmon
- Tart cherry juice
- Chamomile tea
- Valerian root tea
- Magnolia bark tea
- Anti-inflammatory tea, like Recovery Microtea from Beyond Microgreens
Have you ever thought about food for sleep?
If you go to an allopathic, or conventional, doctor for help sleeping, it’s likely you’ll walk away with one of the numerous sleeping pills that cause just as many side effects as a continuing lack of sleep.
While sleeping pills can be appealing and effective, they come with the risk of habitual dependence. They don’t treat the underlying issue of poor sleep hygiene. Remember, sleep hygiene encompasses all the activities that contribute to a good night’s sleep.
This means that daytime, bedtime, and sleeping habits increase or diminish your ability to sleep. For example, daytime habits that can assist in sleeping are getting sunlight, exercise, and limiting caffeine. Good nighttime habits are reducing screen time, having a calming bedtime ritual, and using sleep-inducing scents like lavender. Good sleeping habits are only using your bed for sleep (and sex), sleeping in a cool room, and having a comfortable bed and pillow.
But there’s another aspect of sleep hygiene that’s not discussed as often: you can use your diet to help you sleep! Nearly everyone knows drinking a big pot of caffeinated coffee before bed won’t help you sleep, but what are some other healthy habits that can help you get that immunity boosting and mind-clearing 7 hours of sleep per night?
One thing to keep in mind is the timing of your evening meal. While there are lots of foods that can help you sleep, digesting lots of food can keep you awake if you eat right before bed. Data shows that while large meals aren’t healthy right before sleeping, smaller, nutrient-dense meals don’t have the same effect. That’s just another reason to choose quality over quantity with your meals, and to give yourself a couple hours to digest before bedtime.
The role of GABA in sleep health
Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA (pronounced ‘gamma am-ee-no-boot-ear-ick’), is a chemical messenger in the brain that causes neurons to be less active. When it binds to a neuron, that cell does less chemical signaling and therefore can control emotions like anxiety and fear.
GABA is important to sleep because by inhibiting neurons it helps, to put simply, calm the nerves. Since GABA is the main neurotransmitter for this purpose, it’s considered beneficial for sleep.
While GABA supplements are available, we’re always in favor of getting what you need from your diet whenever possible. Luckily, GABA is found naturally in many foods:
- Fermented foods like kefir and yogurt
- Green, black, and oolong teas
- Whole grains
- Beans like fava, soy, and lentils
- Walnuts and other nuts
- Fish and crustaceans
What is the relationship between food and sleep?
Besides nutrients, many foods contain compounds that affect the body in specific ways. Some of these functional foods may help you sleep, while others will inhibit the body’s ability to fully rest.
Tryptophan (pronounced ‘trip-toe-fan’) is a good example. Foods that contain tryptophan help you sleep because they contain melatonin. Milk, bananas, nuts, honey, and eggs all contain tryptophan. Ever wonder why you feel tired after eating a hefty amount of turkey at Thanksgiving? Well, tryptophan is to blame!
Caffeine is a compound found in many beverages and several foods. We all know coffee contains caffeine, but you should be aware that even decaf coffee contains a little caffeine. If you’re sensitive to it, decaf coffee might be affecting your sleep. Caffeine is also found in a traditional bedtime drink–cocoa! Pure cocoa contains a lot of caffeine, so avoid drinking it in the evening and avoid dark chocolates. Many medications, like cold or flu pills, contain caffeine as well, so be sure to read the labels on all medication bottles.
Nicotine is found in tobacco products like cigarettes, chew, and snuff. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant and will work against you if you’re trying to sleep better. Plus, nicotine is highly addictive and damaging to multiple body organs, so quitting smoking now will improve your health in myriad other ways.
Melatonin isn’t a bioactive compound like the ones we mentioned above, but it’s extremely important for sleep. It’s actually a hormone that helps control day and night bodily rhythms, and it’s produced in response to darkness. Eggs and fish naturally contain melatonin, as well as nuts.
Magnesium is a mineral that can be found as a supplement for aiding sleep, but it’s also found occurring naturally in plant-based foods. Many nuts and seeds contain magnesium–try a handful of walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, or cashews before bed. Alternatively, spinach contains a lot of magnesium.
Why is sleep so important?
By now, you’ve learned how to improve your sleep hygiene and eat to aid better sleep. A whole third of our lives are spent sleeping, but why do we need to sleep anyway?
Sleeping is mysterious and even though all mammals and most other animals on Earth require it, we understand little about why we sleep. There are many theories for why we sleep, and some have good research to back them up. One theory is that we consolidate knowledge learned during our waking hours while we sleep. Some researchers hold that it helps us conserve energy. Some sleep scientists even theorize that sleeping helps us regulate our temperature and cool our brains!
All these theories are thought to be incomplete, there is still a lot we don’t know about why we sleep. Whatever the reason, humans need sleep to maintain health, immunity, mental clarity, and well being.
Sleep and COVID-19
COVID-19 is linked to a global wave of sleep disruption. While sleep is always important, it’s especially important now with the global pandemic.
Because sleep is so essential for keeping healthy immune system function, it’s especially important now to defend your body against pathogens. Additionally, research shows that lack of sleep can make certain vaccines less effective. When a COVID-19 vaccine is available, make sure to get enough sleep so you can potentially make it work more efficiently.
With a quickly changing world, symptoms of anxiety and depression have been on the rise globally. But sleep is an easy way to safeguard your health by alleviating symptoms of depression and bettering your mood.
Many countries are reporting increases in mental health issues in conjunction with COVID-19 due to the need for drastic changes in routines and lifestyles. Not getting enough sleep has been shown to increase mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.
Now, more than ever, is a good time to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to cope with a changing world.
Beyond Microgreens has nutrition for sleep!
Here at Beyond Microgreens, we believe in the power of natural, nutrient-dense foods for maintaining good overall health. Our Nrf2-boosting Microteas and Broccoli Booster are easy to fit into your everyday routine for a punch of nutrients. To help improve your sleep hygiene, try adding Microtea Relax to your bedtime routine.