Is What You’re Eating (or Not Eating) Affecting Your Sleep?


Restless and sleepless nights can really start to take a toll on your health (we can attest to that!). In fact, regular quality sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise. While there are many factors that affect how well or how much we sleep each night, what you eat can also impact your zzz's.

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As a general rule, its best to avoid foods that cause heartburn, don't have caffeine for at least 6 hours before you want to sleep and avoid alcohol for at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Did you know that there are also specific substances found in some foods that can help the snooze factor? We'll break it down for you:

Melatonin: a hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle (aka the circadian rhythm). Some research has shown that eating melatonin-rich foods may help with your sleep patterns. Melatonin can be found in tart cherries, grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, asparagus, oats, barley, nuts and seeds.

Tryptophan: an essential amino acid (found in protein) that is converted into melatonin with the help of other nutrients and carbohydrates. Since tryptophan is typically found in protein-rich foods, you’ll need to make sure to eat some healthy complex carbs to help it turn into melatonin. Tryptophan can be found in turkey, chicken, fish, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and yogurt.

B6: a vitamin that helps convert tryptophan to melatonin. It’s also important for metabolism and brain function. B6 can be found in fish, poultry, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), prunes, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, pistachios and flax seeds (or flax meal).

Calcium: besides its connection to strong bones, calcium also helps make melatonin. Not getting enough calcium has been linked to disruptive sleep patterns making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. In addition to dairy, calcium can be found in dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli, sardines and fortified non-dairy milks.

Magnesium: a mineral that can help to reduce stress so you can get a better night’s sleep. Magnesium is found in chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants), making many plant-based foods rich in this mineral. Magnesium can be found in dark leafy greens, broccoli, squash, avocado, soybeans, legumes, wheat germ, nuts and seeds.

As dietitians, we believe it's best to get these nutrients from foods first. Some foods can interfere with medications or medical conditions. Consult with your doctor, dietitian or other healthcare provider first for guidance when trying new foods (or if need be adding a supplement).