Have you noticed that your teen is a bit sleep deprived lately? He may have something on his mind. Or maybe he has an extra heavy load of homework. But, it could be related to his diet and meal pattern.

Has he been extra busy recently? Has his diet suffered as a consequence? Is he eating less frequently? Is the family eating more convenience meals?

Did you know that there is a link between what and when you eat, and sleep1? It is common knowledge that we need to eat a nutritious diet in order to have good health. It is also well known that sleep is important for us to function at our best. But it is a little less obvious that a good diet equals good sleep1.

SLEEP SUFFERS WHEN NUTRITION IS POOR

Everyone goes through periods when their diet is not as healthy and nutritious as it could be. For your teen, life is lived at a fast, pressurized pace. The modern teen is dealing with the pressure of achieving in the classroom, competing on the sports’ field and still finding time to spend with their friends. Something has to give. And it is often the diet.

Irregular meal times become a habit. Skipping a meal here and there is not an issue. It’s when the daily grind of running your teen from one activity to the next, and still ensuring that homework gets done, means that there is no time for regular meals. Before you know it breakfast is a distant memory and lunch is a quick snack in the car.

Blood sugar levels are all over the place. And once the chaos of the day settles down, your teen is hitting the fridge to make up for lost eating time. Just when the body should be slowing down for the night, it suddenly has to rev up the digestive system. It interferes with the natural circadian rhythm and may make it more difficult to fall asleep2.

Most teens would much rather eat a packet of chips and a bar of chocolate washed down with a sugary drink than sit down to a healthy meal. Or they will pull a ready-made macaroni cheese out of the freezer when they get home from school. Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are not high on their list of priorities3.

There are two problems with this kind of food:

  1. It contains a lot of energy in the form of easily digested carbohydrates and sugar.
  2. They contain very little nutrition.

8 TIPS FOR A HEALTHY DIET TO IMPROVE SLEEP

A diet that keeps you physically healthy is the same diet you should be striving for to improve your sleep. Use these tips to improve your teen’s diet:

  1. Eat regular meals. The body and the brain are constantly using energy. Therefore we need to supply energy in the form of food on a regular basis. Try to ensure that your teen eats breakfast, lunch and supper everyday. Snacks in between are important too if they are to be able to keep up with their hectic schedule.
  2. Provide your teen with a sustainable source of energy in the form of low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. They are digested more slowly and give your teen an energy supply over a longer period of time4. It makes it easier to get from one meal to the next without a big dip in blood sugar levels.
  3. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. Although the initial energy boost is great, they are used up very quickly, sending your teen back for another energy hit an hour or two later. You definitely don’t want this to happen during the night. A low blood sugar level can interrupt your sleep5.
  4. Give your teen a source of protein with every meal. Not only does protein take longer to digest, it provides amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Taurine6, glycine7 and L-theanine8 are amino acids that have been shown to be useful in improving sleep. Protein foods are also a good source of zinc. Normal zinc levels have been shown to make it easier to fall asleep9.
  5. Focus on healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits. They are useful for brain health and managing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression which are linked to poor sleep10.
  6. Serve vegetables with every meal and even try to include them in snacks as well. They are a brilliant source of vitamins and minerals, some of which support sleep hormones and pathways in the body. Dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of magnesium that has been shown to promote relaxation and sleep11.
  7. Offer fruit when the sweet craving kicks in. It may contain sugar, but it also contains plenty of fiber and vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
  8. Make sure your teen always has access to water. Staying hydrated improves all aspects of health, including sleep12.

CONCLUSION – A GOOD DIET = GOOD SLEEP

It might require a little more effort from you and your teen to keep on track with a healthy diet. But the reward of better sleep is worth it. The benefits extend far beyond your teen’s pillow. A healthy diet goes a long way to improving sleep. The two together can make your teen unstoppable in all areas of their life.

 

 

REFERENCES

  1. St-Onge M, Mikic A, Pietrolungo C. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(5):938-949.
  2. Crispim C, Zimberg I, dos Reis B, Diniz R, Tufik S, de Mello M. Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2011;07(06):659-664.
  3. Moreno L, Gottrand F, Huybrechts I, Ruiz J, González-Gross M, DeHenauw S. Nutrition and Lifestyle in European Adolescents: The HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study. Advances in Nutrition. 2014;5(5):615S-623S.
  4. What is the glycaemic index (GI)? [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2021 [cited 18 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-is-the-glycaemic-index-gi/
  5. Hypoglycemia: Nocturnal [Internet]. 2021 [cited 18 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/diabetes/hypoglycemia-nocturnal
  6. Jakaria M, Azam S, Haque M, Jo S, Uddin M, Kim I et al. Taurine and its analogs in neurological disorders: Focus on therapeutic potential and molecular mechanisms. Redox Biology. 2019;24:101223.
  7. Razak M, Begum P, Viswanath B, Rajagopal S. Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017;2017:1-8.
  8. Kim S, Jo K, Hong K, Han S, Suh H. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharmaceutical Biology. 2019;57(1):64-72.
  9. Cherasse Y, Urade Y. Dietary Zinc Acts as a Sleep Modulator. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2017;18(11):2334.
  10. Godos J, Currenti W, Angelino D, Mena P, Castellano S, Caraci F et al. Diet and Mental Health: Review of the Recent Updates on Molecular Mechanisms. Antioxidants. 2020;9(4):346.
  11. Using Magnesium for Better Sleep | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. Sleepfoundation.org. 2021 [cited 18 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/magnesium
  12. Surprising Ways Your Hydration Level Affects Your Sleep | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. Sleepfoundation.org. 2021 [cited 18 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/hydration-and-sleep