Better Sleep Through Better Nutrition

Waking up rested and ready for the day is a wonderful feeling. Stress, noise, or snacking on spicy chicken wings too close to bedtime can lead to a terrible night of sleep. Reducing stress or noise can be hard, but improving your eating habits is something everyone can do.

Dr. Marie-Pierre St. Onge at Columbia University Irving Medical Center believes we need to break the poor diet, poor sleep cycle. Following a bad night of sleep, we tend to eat foods that are higher in fats and sugars to give us a quick energy boost. But it does not last and can begin a cycle of poor eating and poor sleep that repeats until a change is made.

What is the key to a great night of sleep? It begins with melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain to regulate sleep. Melatonin is dependent on tryptophan, an amino acid. Without tryptophan, you cannot make melatonin.

Building Blocks for Better Sleep

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that people must get from food. A balanced diet including foods containing tryptophan aids melatonin production which can lead to more regular sleep. Thankfully, many foods contain tryptophan. Turkey, eggs, nuts, cheese, whole grains, beans, and fish are all rich in tryptophan. Beyond eating tryptophan containing foods, Dr. St. Onge recommends the Mediterranean diet for good sleep and overall health largely due to the focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet, named for the eating habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea, focuses on locally grown fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

Meals that are part of the Mediterranean diet are “plant forward”. This means most of the food on your plate is plant-based (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts) and the primary fat used for cooking is olive oil. Cheese, yogurt, and lean meats such as fish and chicken are part of the diet but are not the focus of each meal.

Why the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy eating, not restrictive dieting. It is built around foods you eat every day, so finding recipes and ingredients is easy. Having a simple meal plan is important because it is easier to stick to. The Mediterranean diet is not a fad. People have been eating it for generations and it has been studied by experts since the 1950s. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with better sleep including waking up less often during the night, having an easier time falling asleep, and a better sleep overall.

Creating Better Nutrition and a Better Sleep Cycle

Big changes in diet, health, and sleep do not happen overnight. But making simple changes will help you build changes that last. Eating foods rich in sleep-supporting nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps to naturally regulate sleep. Combining a healthy diet with other sleep-boosting habits such as moderate movement and eating dinner earlier in the evening (to allow for better digestion) will lead to better quality sleep. Having better nutrition that leads to a better sleep cycle can take time. But the rewards you feel from a restful night of sleep can change your life for the better.


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