Food and drink impact healthy sleep in a variety of ways. While certain foods and drinks are known to help facilitate healthy sleep, others can be detrimental to sleep quality.
So, how do diet choices specifically impact one’s sleep quality, and what can we do to strengthen those zzz’s?
Sleep deprivation may stop the brain’s ability to make healthy food choices by affecting impulse control and decision-making. Lack of sleep puts your body on high alert, causing stress levels to rise. To help reduce this feeling, the brain craves high fat and high carbohydrate foods, since they help calm you down by producing Serotonin, impacting your ability to make good diet decisions.
To make the most of your diet, look for foods that are full of minerals and vitamins, as they not only help maintain weight, but they also promote better sleep. Read on for the best dietary choices to improve your sleep quality.
Eat Your Way to Better Sleep:
- Fruits – bananas, avocados, berries and melons
- Leafy greens – spinach and Swiss chard
- Nuts and seeds – cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds and nut butters
- Beans – black beans, soy beans, tofu
- Whole grains – brown rice, millet, wheat and oat bran
Potassium: A gene found in potassium generates slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative sleep phase. Bananas are not only a great source of magnesium, but potassium as well. Other potassium-rich foods include mushrooms, tomatoes, salmon, cod and citrus, especially in juice form.
Calcium: Calcium is a natural relaxant since it helps to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. Calcium also plays a direct role in producing melatonin. Melatonin levels drop during the day when the body is active, preventing sleepiness and making you alert. Levels are at their highest at night in order to promote restful sleep.
Calcium comes from other dairy sources such as yogurt or cheese, as well as from:
- Dark, leafy greens – turnip greens, collards, spinach and kale
- Nuts and seeds – Brazil nuts, almonds and sesame seeds
- Soy – tofu and soymilk
B Vitamins: Different forms of these vitamins can improve the quality of sleep. Vitamin B3 lengthens REM sleep, while B6 is required for production of serotonin, the calming hormone. An intake of extra B12 will also help maintain a normal sleep pattern.
Foods rich in vitamin B include:
- Whole grains
What to Avoid:
Try to stay away from foods that are high in fat, since a high-fat diet may cause daytime tiredness and interrupted sleep at night. A clinical study on the effect on high-fat diets on sleep showed an increase in daytime sleepiness and more fragmented sleep than those on a regular diet.
The link between poor sleep and a high-fat diet may be explained by the chemical orexin, or hypocretin, a neuro-chemical that regulates both sleep-wake cycles and weight. Orexin helps stimulate wakefulness and has been shown to be involved in the chemical process that creates the urge to eat. Lack of this chemical is linked to sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
Watch Your Drinks:
There’s nothing wrong with starting your morning with a cup of coffee, just make sure to eliminate caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m. to prevent sleep disruptions at night (remember caffeine has a half-life of between 8-10 hours, and this can affect your sleep quality and sleep quantity). While coffee boasts other benefits besides a caffeine boost, energy drinks should be avoided as a caffeine source since they may cause you to feel anxious, jittery and wired, which will impact your sleep.
Alcohol consumption before bed also takes a negative toll on sleep. Consider cutting back on alcohol consumption close to bedtime (i.e., within 3 hours). Research has found alcohol can diminish sleep quality by lessening the amount of time spent in both REM sleep and slow-wave sleep (SWS), the mentally and physically restorative phases of sleep.  The negative effect of alcohol on sleep is more significant in the evening and at bedtime. 
Cherries are a food that naturally contain higher levels of melatonin.  Drinking cherry juice on a regular basis will help promote better sleep, as studies have shown a significant decrease in the severity of insomnia during the weeks when participants drank cherry juice.
Melatonin and Natural Sleep Cycle Regulation:
Some people take melatonin supplements, which are absorbed differently from the natural sources of the hormone found in food. Melatonin needs to be used in very particular ways for very particular circumstances; it is not something people should be using without the direction of their doctor. For this reason, many people prefer to regulate their own sleep cycles naturally without melatonin.
A healthy diet is a great place to start to help ensure a good night’s sleep. In addition to those choices, here are some more examples of ways to naturally regulate your sleep cycle:
- Get exposure to sunlight during the day
- Get regular consistent exercise
- Practice good sleep hygiene by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and cool. Your body’s internal clock will reset itself with proper exposure to light at the right times.
Make sure to incorporate sleep-friendly foods into your diet to ensure best sleep quality. Look for foods low in fat and high in magnesium, potassium and calcium and always monitor your nighttime drink consumption. Incorporating these diet choices into your daily routine will have you eating and drinking your way to a healthy night’s sleep!