What you eat affects how you sleep

May 22, 2015

Sleeping well or poor can be strongly affected by what we eat. Numerous studies show that feeling unrefreshed after sleeping a few hours (or otherwise, feeling tired despite having slept enough hours) is greatly influenced by the type of food consumed. In addition to the effects of what we eat before bedtime affecting the quality of sleep, these studies also show that those choices affect our food decisions the next day. So, people who sleep less are more likely to consume foods richer in energy, such as fats and refined carbohydrates. What we eat hours before going to bed directly impacts the duration and quality of sleep. Moreover, the dream state has a great influence on our dietary choices the next day.

A studied carried out at the Institute of Biomedicine, Pharmacy and Physiology of Nutrition at the University of Helsinki in Finland concluded that people who sleep less are more likely to consume more foods rich in energy (such as fats or refined carbohydrates), and consume fewer servings of veggies and have more irregular dietary guidelines as well. The study also found that short sleep duration is associated with weight gain and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and the performance deficit. These eating patterns affect health in the short, medium and long term, as it notes a research at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology of the University of Pennsylvania.

So, what should we eat to sleep better? In general, foods that affect the availability of tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin synthesis may be more useful in the promotion of sleep. Melatonin is a molecule in the regulation of the sleep-wake human cycle, while serotonin, synthesized in the brain, plays an important role in improving mood, satiety and sleep regulation. Certain fruits and vegetables are rich in serotonin, but exogenous serotonin nervous system access is not easy due to the brain encephalic barrier. However, this molecules are synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid that crosses this brain barrier easily.

In the case of melatonin, its secretion into the blood by the pineal gland in intense amounts when it’s dark (during the night). Therefore, you may want to include foods rich in tryptophan at dinner. This compound allows the body to synthesize serotonin and melatonin. But, which foods contain this amino acid? Foods rich in proteins, in general, also are in tryptophan (fish, eggs, chicken, Turkey); In addition to others such as vegetables (in particular the soybean and its derivatives like tofu), nuts (walnuts, peanuts...), seeds (Sesame, pumpkin seeds) and some fruits (banana, pineapple and avocado).

At the same time, carbohydrates trigger a response in the secretion of insulin which improves the bioavailability of tryptophan in the central nervous system. To synthesize serotonin and make a good nerve connection, the body, as well as tryptophan, requires other nutrients such as fatty acids omega 3 and oligo elements like magnesium and zinc. Oily fish, nuts and green leafy vegetables are good sources for these vital nutrients and should be the part of any well balanced diet.