Food therapy: How what you eat can help you to sleep better
A solid night's rest usually bodes well for the following day. But there is more to your between-the-sheets time than meets the (shut) eye. Optimal rest elevates mood, enhances mental focus, improves athletic performance, controls weight, stabilises blood sugars, balance hormones, and even boosts immunity. The number of hours we need and consistently get per night varies significantly from person to person. What shouldn't vary is our capacity to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake feeling rested and ready in the morning. Whether you're lacking in sleep quality or quantity, a bit of nutritional trouble-shooting can put an end to tossing, turning and counting sheep. Try some of these tricks on for size and get more from your nightly pillow time.
Focus on the finish
At the end of the day, we all exhale a collective sigh of relief. In the celebratory spirit, indulgence- and comfort-based choices can easily usurp mindful eating. But this last meal leaves a lasting physiological impression that can make — or break — sleep patterns.
Watch the clock
Dinner is usually the evening appointment we're most prone to postpone. However, eating late revs up digestion and metabolism at a time when the GI tract (and the rest of the body) want nothing more than to settle down. Buffer your last meal and your bedtime by two to three hours and you'll slip more easily into slumber.
Have a not-so-grand finale
It's common to unconsciously 'back load' food intake and consume a lion's share of calories and nutrients later in the day. This is the nutritional equivalent of your boss dropping a pile of folders on your desk at 5:45pm when you're due to leave the office at 6pm. Anything done under these circumstances — paperwork or digestion — is likely less comfortable and efficient. Since food is energy, reduce the size of your last meal and redistribute those valuable bites over the wakeful hours.
Keep nights light
Of the three macronutrients — protein, carbohydrate, and fats — fats move most slowly from the stomach to the intestines. While this extra dwell time boosts satiety, it also keeps the body busy and unable to completely relax. Therefore, select leaner options from menus. Moisturise, rather than drown, your homemade dishes with oils, sauces, and dressings.
Tend to nibble nocturnally? There is no need to abstain. Nagging hunger pangs can make falling asleep impossible and even wake us up in the wee hours. Earlier, smaller, and lighter dinners (as described above) may also necessitate a tiny top-up prior to turning out your lights. Though tempting, sugary chocolates and sweets and the heavily-oiled crisps and crunchies fried products please our palates alone. Instead, stock your pantry with calming alternatives. What's best?
Pair a carbohydrate with a touch of protein
This combo stimulates serotonin production, a hormone with soothing effects. Choose whole, unprocessed, nature-made sources over refined products such as gluten-free grains, starchy vegetables, and low-sugar fresh fruits.
Fit in foods with melatonin
Melatonin is another hormone that lulls us into sleep. Our body produces it, but certain foods contain this chemical naturally, as well, such as goji berries, tart cherries, raspberries, tomato, almonds, walnuts, and flaxseed meal.
Put these together for sleep inducing snacks, such as:
- Banana, flax, almond milk, & cinnamon mini-smoothie
- Petite bowl of warm oat porridge with walnuts and goji berries
- Cup of plain unsweetened yogurt with tart cherries
- Puffed brown rice cake with a swipe of hummus & sliced tomato
Any excess fluids within 1 to 2 hours of bedtime are sure to spell a middle-of-the-night visit to the loo. But the types of beverages you choose, throughout the daytime and early evening, can also disrupt rest. To protect REM cycles:
Daily caffeine intake can creep up during seasons of poor sleep. Even if you feel your tolerance level is harmless, the stimulation for daytime alertness can result in residual wakefulness overnight. To curb these untoward after-effects, consider a morning cut-off time and maintain a decaffeinated afternoon. Swap your 3pm latte for a herbal infusion tea with calming effects, like lavender or chamomile.
While alcohol is a recognised relaxant, it also acts as a stimulant. While it may help with falling asleep, it works against staying asleep or reaching the deep levels of restorative sleep required for effective recuperation.
Look closely at lifestyle
Outside of diet, here are a few sleep-supporting additions and adjustments you should not overlook:
1. Exercise, but do so earlier in the day. This will not only boost daytime energy levels but also prevent over-exciting the system too near to bedtime.
2. Dim your lighting. Melatonin is a photosensitive hormone. Production increases in darkness, so keep lamps and electronic screen settings on low as you wind down for the evening.
3. Practice meditation, yoga, or hypnosis. Specific mindfulness, stretching, breathing techniques can progressively relax stressed bodies and overactive minds.
4. Try acupuncture and massage. Traditional medical treatments and manual therapies can alleviate trapped musculoskeletal tension, unblock and redistribute energy, and normalise hormonal imbalances.
About Eve Persak, nutritionist at COMO Shambhala
Eve is a Registered Dietitian (RD) with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is one of 3,500 medical professionals globally to hold Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CSNC) credentials with the American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. Eve's expertise is rooted in science-based knowledge and provides comprehensive anthropometric and biochemical nutritional assessments, personalised therapeutic dietary recommendations, and guidance with meal planning and preparation. With COMO Hotels and Resorts, Eve is the Nutrition Editor and Consultant of COMO Shambhala's newly published cookbook, The Pleasures of Eating Well: Nourishing Favourites from the COMO Shambhala Kitchen. She also serves as Nutrition Advisor to Club21's SuperNature grocery store and leads The Home Kitchen Edit, a bespoke service by COMO Shambhala Urban Escape Singapore that sees Eve making home visits to help clients calibrate their pantry and draw up healthful meal plans.