We will be exploring the relationship between sleep and nutrition by discussing specific nutrients, overall eating patterns, timing of eating, and simple action steps to improve your sleeping habits. Let’s go!
About a third of the U.S. adults sleep less than the recommended amount, which is at least 7 hours per night according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [i] In fact, people who sleep less than this usually consume less amounts of certain critical nutrients.[ii] Sleep is as important to immunity, energy, metabolism & overall health as healthy eating and being physically active.
Let’s start by discussing vitamin D, the sun’s nutrient. Lack of vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of sleep disorders, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality and less overall sleep each night.[i] Research has found that lack of D negatively impacts sleep in a variety of populations including Korean women, African Americans, and men over the age of 65.
Does taking a vitamin D supplement produce the opposite effect, leading to longer and better quality sleep? Maybe not immediately. For example, one study showed improved sleep quality after 3 months of supplementation.[ii] So, stick with it and take your supplemental D every day.
Vitamin C is a crucial antioxidant that protects cells from damage and aids in the healing of wounds. It comes from citrus, broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, cantaloupe, and kiwi.[iii] People who sleep the recommended amount (7-9 hours a night), have optimal anti-inflammation and lower oxidative stress profiles, due to vitamin C and other antioxidant levels in their blood.
People with short (5 to 6 hours) and very short (less than 4 hours) sleep durations had lower vitamin C, vitamin D, and carotenoid levels in the blood, putting them at risk for catching colds, flu and other illnesses. In adult women of all ages (19 to 99), short sleep duration was found to be associated with low vitamin C intake.[iv] Perhaps not eating enough Vitamin C rich foods leads to difficulty staying asleep.
Magnesium comes from whole grains, dark, leafy greens, low fat milk and yogurt, dark chocolate and nuts. It’s critical for energy production, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation.[v]
Magnesium is related to healthy sleep because it relaxes muscles and activates deep sleep.[vi] When your sleep clock is imbalanced, our body releases and gets rid of too much magnesium. Insomnia, waking up frequently in the middle of the night, the inability to fall back asleep when you wake up too early, restlessness, tight muscles, and an inability to relax the body and mind are all symptoms of a sleep-related magnesium deficiency.[vii]
Taking a magnesium supplement can improve insomnia, sleep duration and quality, and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. For women, consuming magnesium from food provides benefits such as helping to stop falling asleep during the day.[viii] If you have questions about magnesium supplements or would like recommendations to access high quality products at a discount, reach out to me.
Overall Eating Pattern
Now, that we have learned about specific nutrients, let’s look at how our overall eating patterns influence sleep. In a study that examined overall dietary intake, researchers compared intakes of food groups, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals between short, normal, and long sleep duration groups. Researchers found that the long sleep duration group consumed less protein, meat, and processed meat than the normal sleep duration group. Saturated fat intake was higher in the short sleep duration group compared to the long sleep duration group.
Compared to study participants with low sleep quality, high sleep quality was found in participants who consumed more carbohydrates, fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin E, thiamine, vitamin B6, total folate, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron as well as fruit.[ix]
To summarize, for better sleep, eat more fruits, veggies, plant based proteins and whole grains, and eat less processed meats and red meat.
Timing of Eating and Sleep
Finally, we need to explore how meal and snack timing is related to sleep. Two nightly eating habits: eating dinner immediately before bed and eating snacks after dinner, are shown to increase a person’s risk for obesity. This association was found to be more significant for women than men (ugh, of course!!).
There are multiple reasons why: Late-night eating could lead to circadian rhythm imbalance, slower metabolism, increased feelings of cravings and hunger, and weight gain. Energy use and metabolism is naturally lower at night than during the day, so when you snack at night.[x]
Action Steps to Increase Healthy Sleeping Habits[xi]
Now that you know how nutrition and sleep are connected, you can act to sleep better!
- Follow a routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Keep the same schedule throughout the week. Yes, even on the weekends. Try to keep limit the time difference to 1 hour at most. Staying up late and sleeping in late can create an imbalance in your circadian rhythm AKA your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm.
- Take an hour of quiet time prior to bedtime by avoiding strenuous exercise and screens. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake. Try reading a book before bed.
- Avoid large meals and alcohol at least 2 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine. The effects that caffeine has on the body can last up to 8 hours, which can mess with sleep if you consume coffee in the afternoon!
- Spend time outside to get vitamin D from the sun and be physically active.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques like meditation apps before bed.
- Consider taking your magnesium supplement in the evening. Take Vitamin D during the daytime.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, rich in Vitamin C.
- Talk to your doctor if sleep problems arise! Many people do not mention sleep problems to their doctor, and some doctors do not even ask, so make sure to be proactive about it.[xii]