Eating better to sleep better

The first step toward better sleep is eating balanced, nutritious meals and snacks evenly spaced throughout the day. Eat too little during the day, and you’ll overstuff yourself in the evening, leading to a night of tossing, turning, and indigestion. Eat too little for dinner, and you might find yourself lying awake, longing for a trip to the fridge.

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You’ve been told over and over again that eating before bed will make you fat because it provides unnecessary calories. Conventional wisdom says as you aren’t “burning energy” late at night that eating a good meal or near bed time will result in that food will sit in your stomach all night long, which will lead you to packing on the pounds.

Word to the unconventionally wise: Don’t fall for it!

These are myths, and if done in the correct way, can boost your metabolism and bring you closer to your weight and overall wellness goals by keeping your blood sugar levels stable. So, don’t push through that hungry feeling and go to bed on an empty stomach!

Now we are not saying that everyone needs to be eating a huge snack before bed every night! If you are looking to gain muscle and strength then you definitely need to be adding this into your plan. If you are looking to drop some body fat it can be useful tool on some days….read on and find out how best to do it. 

Fat loss is more complex than just calories in / calories out. Eating foods to help sleep can really help accelerate your progress. If you are fighting the hunger pangs late at night we advise you to look at your intake over the day, ensure you are not massively under eating and then follow the advice below to add in a pre bed snack.

Sleep is just as important for our health as eating well and exercising.

Understanding the importance of sleep is starting to encourage us to understand how much sleep we get, how much we need and how we can make positive and practical changes to sleep better.

Making a few simple lifestyle changes, especially to our diets, like adjusting the timing of your meals and eating sleep-friendly foods can make a huge difference to the quality of your sleep.


 The role of hormones

Hormones play an important role when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. They help to maintain our sleep-wake cycle, making us feel sleepy in the evening and waking up in the morning.

Melatonin

  • It’s essential for a healthy sleep cycle and it also controls the way we respond to stress.

  • It’s produced in the pineal gland in the brain, when it becomes dark melatonin levels in the blood and rise and we become sleepy.

  • If you are melatonin deficient, you may experience sleeplessness and insomnia.

Walnuts and cherries contain their own melatonin. Oats, milk and bananas all boost our melatonin levels, eating them regularly can help to stabilise your sleep cycle.

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Serotonin

It’s not found in food, it’s a neurotransmitter derived from the amino acid tryptophan.

It plays an important role in regulating mood, appetite and sleeping as well as promoting feelings of calm and sleepiness; a deficiency of serotonin is linked to anxiety, low mood and depression.

Cortisol

It influences a range of body systems and processes, including how we respond to stress, our immune response and metabolism. Levels of this hormone are usually high in the morning then decrease throughout the day.

High cortisol levels may also affect our food preferences, making us crave unhealthy foods higher in fat or sugar.


Key nutrients for sleep and where to find them

Magnesium

This important mineral is needed for quality sleep and helps to activate the neurotransmitter responsible for calming your mind and body, it also helps muscles to relax.

Calcium

This helps the brain to use the amino acid tryptophan to make the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and mood regulator serotonin. If you are calcium deficient, you might struggle to fall asleep.


Vitamin B6

This vitamins plays an important role in the conversion of the sleep-enhancing amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.


Potassium

This is a muscle and nerve relaxant and aids good digestion. Too little potassium can lead to muscle spasm, which may disrupt our sleep.

Tryptophan

This regulates our moods, calm us, fights anxiety and has a natural sedative effect. It’s an essential amino acid, which means our body can’t make it and we have to obtain it from food.

Lean proteins are high in tryptophan and easy to digest.


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Foods to avoid before bedtime

  • Processed meats contain high levels of sodium and can disrupt sleep by raising your blood pressure.

  • Simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar molecules and can have a huge effect on blood glucose levels. Try to avoid over-refined simple carbs such as white bread, pasta, pastry, cookies, cakes and sweets. High blood sugar levels during the night may increase your need to go to the toilet and make you feel too warm or unsettled, Check the sugar content on the labels of sauces, ready meals and snacks. Look out for “hidden” sugars too, including corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose and glucose.

  • Coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks stimulate your nervous system and keep you awake by blocking the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that signals to the brain that is time to rest. The stimulatory effect of caffeine lasts for at least 8-12 hours after consumption, so be wary of that afternoon coffee.

  • Artificial sweeteners might be sugar free and lower in calories but they affect your sleep. If you need to sweeten drinks and desserts use honey (it’s soothing and enables tryptophan to enter the brain)


Recipes

All of the recipes below contain the nutrients needed for healthy sleep. There are some main meals and pre bed snacks


 
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Marta Lesina is one of our nutrition coaches based out of The Yard in Peckham and CrossFit Blackfriars. If you are interested in working with her head over to the nutrition coaching page and sign up for online coaching!

 

+ References / further reading

Nutrition adviceMarta Lesina