How Diet Can Help Improve Sleep Quality

Young woman sleeping in her bed, head on pillow.
There may be a direct connection between diet and healthy sleep. (Image: Petr Kratochvil /Public Domain Pictures

There’s been a renewed focus on the importance of sleep as society at large has realized the power of this biological process. The food that fuels your body can either help or hinder your ability to sleep. A focus on balanced meals eaten at the right times could be what you need to boost the success of your sleep cycle.

What to eat for better sleep

There are foods that should be avoided close to bedtime. Stimulants like caffeine when consumed within four hours of bedtime block sleep hormones, delaying the sleep cycle. Heavy, high-fat foods may cause indigestion or uncomfortable bloating that causes wakefulness. If you suffer from heartburn, you should probably avoid foods that trigger acid reflux, like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and chocolate.

Other types of foods can help support and even improve the quality of your sleep. A study published in 2002 found that eating carbohydrate-rich meals in the evening can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep. Meals high in carbs would include brown rice, whole-grain breads, fruits, and vegetables. The meal itself doesn’t have to be large, but you need to be aware of the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins and fats.

Chinese rice porridge with topping in a brown bowl.

Chinese rice porridge. (Image:iandeth / CC BY)

However, you don’t want to avoid proteins or fats altogether. Meals high in protein have been shown to reduce nighttime wakefulness. Lean, healthy proteins like poultry and fish can also be beneficial to your heart health.

 

If you have problems falling or staying asleep, you can adjust your meals with more carbs or proteins based on your unique sleep issues. However, if you just want to improve your general sleep health, try to eat an evening meal with plenty of healthy, whole-grain carbs and lean protein. Together, they support a stronger sleep cycle.

When to eat for better sleep

The content of your meals isn’t the only way you can influence your sleep cycle. When you eat can be just as powerful. The human body uses behaviors that repeat regularly in a 24-hour cycle to correctly time the sleep cycle.

 

Meal timing is one of those behaviors. Evenly spaced meals that are eaten on a predictable schedule help the brain and body to recognize the appropriate time to begin the sleep cycle. If you skip a meal, delaying it by several hours, you can also delay the release of melatonin, a key sleep hormone.

vintage clock

Vintage clock. Time is essential in regard to quality sleep. (Image: AxelleB/Public Domain Images)

How to support a strong sleep cycle

You’ve already learned that a well-balanced diet and appropriately timed meals can enhance the quality of your sleep. But there’s so much more you can do to get the full seven to nine hours you need.

  • Make and keep a schedule: Your body loves predictability. Set an appropriate bedtime then make sure it’s a priority. Consistency allows the brain to automatically time the release of sleep hormones.

  • Prepare a comfort zone: The body needs to completely relax for true, restful sleep. Lower the room temperature, turn out the lights, and block out as much sound as possible. Those with sensory issues or anxiety may benefit from a weighted blanket, while others may find natural fiber sheets improve their sleep comfort. The point is to find what works for you and stick with it.

  • Turn off electronic screens: Blue spectrum light, like that emitted by many popular electronic devices, suppresses sleep hormones because it directly affects the same part of the brain as sunlight. Try turning these devices off two to three hours before bed to avoid delaying your sleep cycle.

Conclusion

Food acts as the fuel of your life. It’s also a key contributor to the function — sleep — that keeps your body recharged. Even small changes in the timing of your meals or the food you eat can produce a more successful sleep cycle. Be consistent and patient, and better sleep will soon come your way.

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