By Jamie Miller, Registered Dietitian, Village Health Clubs & Spas
Not getting quality sleep can affect every aspect of our health from cognitive functioning, blood pressure, digestion, weight gain, hormones, insulin levels and much more. While many lifestyle factors such as stress, screen time and low physical movement can impact sleep, the important role of nutrition is often overlooked as a key component for a good night’s rest. Jamie Miller, Registered Dietitian for the Village Health Clubs & Spas, shares the scoop on how we can alter our food choices to achieve our most rested and healthy self.
Good Eats, Good Sleep
While it might sound cliche, one of the most vital components for restful sleep is a healthy, balanced diet. Countless studies have shown that a diet high in processed carbs, sugar and saturated fats can disturb sleep. It’s believed that a low-quality diet causes nutrient deficiencies that hinder hormonal pathways involved in sleep. Instead of sugary sweets, refined grains, high-fat animal products and processed oils, focus your meals on ample produce, lean proteins, quality carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Natural Sleeping Aids
While an overall balanced diet is key, there are also specific foods that can help improve sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps promote relaxation and sleep, and many nutritious foods contain this compound. Some examples are tart cherries and cherry juice, goji berries, bananas, tomato, eggs, salmon, pistachios and almonds, flax and oats.
A powerhouse nutrient that is often overlooked for high-quality sleep is the mineral magnesium, which is something most people don’t get enough of in their diet. Magnesium helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping our bodies stay calm and relaxed. Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate, nuts (such as almonds, cashews and peanuts), avocado, edamame, banana and yogurt.
Need a Bedtime Snack?
It’s recommended to eat your last meal or snack three hours before bedtime. The body’s digestion naturally slows by about 50 percent when we sleep so that three-hour window ensures no upset stomachs from slow-digested food. Allowing ample time for our food to digest before lying down also can help prevent any indigestion or heartburn.
However, a growling stomach can disrupt sleep, too! If you’re truly hungry before bed, aim for a small snack to quell the hunger. It’s best to avoid a high-fat, high-protein snack since these macronutrients take the most time to digest, which can disturb a restful night’s sleep. Instead, go for a snack more focused on complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole grain toast, low sugar cereal or whole grain crackers. These carbohydrate foods take a less time to digest and carbohydrates also help trigger the release of the hormone serotonin, which can help with sleepiness. See some sleepy-time snack ideas at the end of the article!
Swap What You Sip On
What we drink, and when we drink it, can directly impact our sleep. The first key is to stop consuming any caffeine after 2:00 p.m., or earlier if you find yourself easily affected by caffeine. It’s also helpful to limit alcohol intake. While alcohol can make falling asleep easier, it can actually harm your restorative sleep stages. Instead, try sipping on chamomile tea, which contains an antioxidant called apigenin that can promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. It’s also helpful to watch the quantity of liquids you consume later in the evening to avoid any extra trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Instead, focus on getting ample water in the beginning portion of your day!
Nighttime Snacks for Better Sleep
Avocado Toast with Tomato, Balsamic Glaze and Fresh Basil
● 1 slice 100% whole grain bread, toasted
● 2 Tbsp. avocado, mashed
● ¼ c. sliced tomato
● 1-2 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
● Balsamic glaze, to taste
● Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Evenly spread your mashed avocado onto a toasted piece of bread. Next, place the tomatoes on top, then add the basil. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately.
Sleepy Time Trail Mix
● ⅓ c. goji berries
● ⅓ c. dried tart cherries
● 1 c. nuts of choice (almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seed, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
● ⅓ c. dark chocolate chips
In a mason jar, quart size bag or Tupperware, add all the trail mix ingredients and stir or shake to combine. Enjoy a palmful as desired.
Banana Yogurt Parfait
● 6 oz. plain Greek yogurt
● Natural sweetener of choice (such as stevia, monk fruit, honey, or maple syrup), to taste
● ⅛ tsp. vanilla extract (or try substituting with almond or maple extract)
● ⅛ tsp. cinnamon
● ½ Tbsp. ground flax
● 1 small banana, sliced
● 2 Tbsp. walnuts, chopped
In a small bowl, mix the plain Greek yogurt with sweetener of choice to taste, extract, cinnamon and ground flax. Take a small glass or mason jar and spoon in half the yogurt, then top with half the banana slices and one tablespoon chopped walnuts. Repeat by layering the rest of the yogurt, banana slices, and walnuts. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Enjoy immediately.
Wondering what personal dietary changes could help improve your sleep, or have any other nutritional needs? Reach out to Dietitian Jamie Miller for an appointment via firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-494-2030.