You’ve heard it before, but let’s be honest- sleep is important. Like really important. We need to get enough of it in order to function properly on a daily basis, and if we don’t? Well that can lead to serious consequences both mentally and physically.

But what about our diet? What role does nutrition play in getting the best night’s sleep possible and how do those foods affect our overall health as well as the quality of our sleep? Keep reading to learn more!

OVEREATING & POOR SLEEP

In South Africa we have a saying, ‘maagie vol, oogies toe’, which basically means when your belly is full, you will feel sleepy. This happens, in part, because your blood is diverted away from your brain towards your digestive tract to facilitate digestion. Done once in a while, indulging in a bit more food than usual shouldn’t negatively affect you. In the long run, however, overeating increases the risk for gastrointestinal discomfort and may make it more difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep¹. Overeating can also result in unwanted weight gain as well as a number of metabolic complications down the line.

FOOD QUALITY

The type of food you eat (in general and before bed) can also have an effect on your sleep. When deciding on what to include at mealtimes, a good rule of thumb is to follow the plate model². It advocates for: ¼ plate lean proteins, ¼ plate wholegrains or minimally processed starches and ½ plate fruits and vegetables with some added plant fats and oils where needed.

 

CARBOHYDRATES

When you eat foods concentrated in easy to absorb carbohydrates (like foods made up of sugar or flours), your body has to secrete large amounts of insulin to assist with the glucose load. In response to this high secretion of insulin, the body releases adrenaline, cortisol, glucagon and growth hormones which can all promote insomnia. In addition to this, quickly absorbed carbohydrates promote inflammation which may alter the type of bacteria present in your microbiome which can also have a profound effect on sleep quality. With this in mind, it’s best not to eat high GI foods near bedtime or choose low GI foods (unprocessed or minimally processed carbohydrates) to promote blood glucose control and prevent insomnia³.

Examples of healthy carbohydrates to include at meal times include: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa and corn. And best to avoid any fast foods or sugary drinks.

 

PROTEIN

Eating enough protein also seems to play a role in sleep quality. Having enough protein in your diet (between 20-30% of your total energy) can result in higher tryptophan levels. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is involved in the production of serotonin (your feel good neurotransmitter) and melatonin (your sleep hormone). Interestingly, serotonin not only helps you feel good, but is also a precursor for melatonin. Always remember that more is not better, the focus should be on adequate intake and not to follow a high protein diet (which may hinder sleep quality).

Most people eat more than enough protein (even vegetarians). Focus on eating good quality proteins from a variety of sources including lean meat and poultry, fish, dairy, legumes and even nuts and seeds. Protein sources that are particularly high in tryptophan include milk, tuna and turkey.

FAT

A diet high in total and saturated fat, as is seen in the traditional ‘Western-style’ diet, may cause you to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods of time⁴. On the other hand, low-fat diets may reduce the amount of deep sleep you experience! Eating a moderate fat diet may be the answer.

While the optimal amount of fat we should be eating everyday will vary depending on the person, eating a moderate fat diet (like that seen in the Mediterranean diet) and replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats not only has heart health benefits, but may also influence melatonin synthesis and promote good sleep. Some good examples of unsaturated fats include olives/ olive oil, avo/ avo oil, nuts and seeds.

 

FOODS THAT CONTAIN MELATONIN

Some foods actually contain small amounts of melatonin and can be used to help increase circulating melatonin levels in your quest to improve the quality and efficiency of sleep. Some notable sources include eggs, fish, meat, milk, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, grapes, cherries, strawberries and kiwi.

OTHER FOODS/ NUTRIENTS THAT CAN HELP

FERMENTED FOODS

Fermented foods all have one thing in common, they usually contain varying amounts of probiotics. Probiotics are ‘live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body⁵. They can be used to potentially improve gut health and optimize communication between the gut and the brain (also known as the gut brain axis) which can potentially have an effect on sleep quality.

 

VITAMIN D, OMEGA 3 & ZINC

Both vitamin D and omega 3 are involved in serotonin synthesis and so preventing deficiency and optimising intake can possibly help improve sleep quality. Serum zinc levels have also been shown to be lower in those who sleep less indicating a possible relationship between low zinc and poor sleep. A great way to ‘kill two birds with 1 stone’ is to consume sufficient amounts of fatty fish (aiming for 2-3 servings per week). Not only are they a great source of omega 3 and zinc but they are one of the few food sources of vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin).

 

WHAT ABOUT STIMULANTS?

The most well known stimulant, worldwide, is caffeine. It is mainly found in coffee and beverages like energy drinks and sodas. Drinking coffee can negatively affect your sleep quality and as little as 1 extra cup per day (over and above your normal intake) can cause you to struggle to fall asleep. Caffeine negatively affects your sleep by delaying rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles and can also make waking up more difficult⁶. In general, teens should try to curb their caffeine intake to no more than 100mg/ day (equivalent to 1 cup of coffee or 2 cups of tea), while most adults can get away with drinking 300-400mg/ day without negative side effects⁷. Caffeine should not be consumed too close to bedtime as caffeine takes about 8-10 hours to be completely metabolised.

This being said, some people are far more sensitive to caffeine than others and as a result may suffer from negative side effects at lower doses. Not only can too much caffeine affect your sleep, it can also increase feelings of anxiety, so it’s probably best to err on the side of caution when it comes to how much caffeine your teen consumes.

CONCLUSION

A good night’s sleep increases productivity while also reducing stress levels during daytime hours. The food choices you make throughout the day can either help or hurt your ability to have a good night’s rest. To improve your chances for a good night, don’t overeat, choose good quality macronutrients (using the plate model to guide your portions) and deliberately choose foods (and supplements) that have nutrients that have been proven to help improve sleep. Bioteen Supersleep is the perfect supplement to incorporate into your teen’s sleep routine. Replace a sugary hot chocolate before bed with Bioteen Supersleep and reap the benefits of a great night sleep!

REFERENCE

  1. Zuraikat F, Makarem N et al. A Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Predicts Better Sleep Quality in US Women. From the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Strategically focused Research Network. Sept 2020:12 (9), 2830. (Pubmed)
  2. Department of Nutrition. Healthy Eating Plate. Harvard T.Chan School of Public Health. (T.Chan School of Public Health)
  3. Sutano CN, Xian Wang M, Tan D and Kim JE. Association of Sleep Quality and Macronutrient Distribution: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression. 2020, 12 (1) 126. (MDPI)
  4. Zuraikat F, Makarem N et al. A Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Predicts Better Sleep Quality in US Women. From the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Strategically focused Research Network. Sept 2020:12 (9), 2830. (Pubmed)
  5. Wang, Y and Shurtleff D. Probiotics: What you need to know. August 2020. (NCCIH)
  6. Weibel J, Yu-Shiuan L, Landolt HP et al. Regular Caffeine intake delays REM sleep promotion and attenuates sleep quality in healthy men. August 2021; 36(4); 384-394 (Pubmed)
  7. Clark I and Landolt HP. Coffee, Caffeine, and Sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Feb 2017;31:70-78. (Pubmed)