6 ways to eat your way to a better night's sleep
The road to the land of nod begins in the kitchen – here’s how to sleep better, courtesy of your stomach
You might think that sleep quality is all about the brain. It makes sense – stress is one of the biggest causes of insomnia, and it’s always hard to switch off after a full-on day. But besides meditating and turning your eyes away from your phone screen, there’s another part of your body that can dictate how well (or badly) you sleep: your stomach.
That’s right – the foods you’re eating and the drinks you’re drinking might be playing havoc with your rest. With that in mind, here are some of quick diet fixes you can try right now to start you on the path to better sleep. Trust us, they’re much more reliable than counting sheep.
1.CURB YOUR SWEET TOOTH
There’s a reason that fizzy drinks and Fruit Pastilles have kids bouncing off the walls – sugar stimulates the brain and messes with hormones which help gear you up for bedding down. In fact, one 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine associated a sugar-heavy diet with lighter, less restorative sleep.
If you’re looking for a sweet fix, try fruit instead: bananas are rich in two muscle-relaxing properties, potassium and magnesium, while research in Advances in Nutrition has linked both kiwi fruit and tart cherry juice to a better night’s rest.
Bite-sized advice: If you’re looking for a sweet treat, limit yourself to fruit – ideally ones without too much sugar, and not too close to bedtime.
2. DON'T GO TOO SPICY
Hot food won’t just wreak havoc on your tongue. Australian researchers at the International Journal of Psychophysiology added tabasco sauce and mustard to subjects’ dinners, and found that all of them noted sleep disturbances on the nights on which they ate the spicy foods.
The reason for this is less clear – scientists theorised that the capsaicin found in chilli raises body temperature, which has been linked to poorer sleep. Whatever it is, even if the staunchest vindaloo fans might be better opting for a korma to put a good night’s sleep on the menu.
Bite-sized advice: Hot food can raise your body temperature, leading to worse sleep. Avoid spicy meals on nights when rest is important.
3. FILL UP ON FLUIDS
Water already has an ocean of benefits when it comes to better health, but it’s also a boon for those looking to get more sleep. According to a cross-cultural study by academics at Penn State University, inadequate hydration is a key factor in those suffering from a shorter night’s sleep.
Yet while water can help you bed down better, make sure you time your hydration right. Nocturia – waking up in the night to go to the toilet – can be avoided, but to do so you’ll need to stop drinking water a couple of hours before you go to bed.
Bite-sized advice: Drink plenty of water in the day, but make sure you stop taking in fluids about two hours before you plan to sleep.
4...BUT SKIP THAT SECOND COFFEE
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, it’ll come as no surprise that caffeine keeps you awake. Yet while the general advice is that you should avoid caffeinated beverages up to four hours before bed, one Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study found that even afternoon caffeine can ruin your sleep.
If you’re still hankering for a hot beverage later on, try swapping coffee for chamomile tea. It’s rich in sleep-inducing antioxidant apigenin, and several studies have linked it not only to better overall sleep quality, but to less chance of waking in the night.
Bite-sized advice: Coffee after 4pm can have adverse effects on your sleep. Instead, opt for a mug of chamomile tea to enhance your quality of rest.
5. CUT BACK ON BOOZE
While a glass of wine or three might have you nodding off, tomorrow’s tiredness will tell you that it wasn’t proper sleep. That’s because alcohol reduces your levels of REM sleep, making you sluggish the morning after and beyond.
If you’re looking to sleep better, cut out booze – or at least cut back on it. What to drink instead? While it might get you some weird looks down the pub, the tryptophan found in warm milk is basically a magic potion when it comes to inducing the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Bite-sized advice: Ditch booze for non-alcoholic drinks which actively promote healthy sleep – tart cherry juice, herbal teas and warm milk are all good options.
6. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FATS
Fat and sleep have a complicated relationship. After all, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study which found that sugar can harm sleep noted the same thing about saturated fat. Even so, the right amount of certain fatty foods can actually help you reach the land of nod.
According to another piece of research in the same journal, those who ate omega-3 rich fatty fish had a better quality sleep than those who did not. Similarly, nutrients like magnesium and zinc – found in abundance in fatty nuts like walnuts and cashews – have been shown by Italian researchers to combat insomnia.
Bite-sized advice: Ditch the saturated stuff found in pizza and ice cream for sleep-friendly, nutrient-rich fats – like salmon at dinnertime or peanut butter before bed.
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