When it comes to getting proper sleep, most of us believe it just comes down to how many hours we get.
But if you’re not getting enough high-quality nutritious calories during the day, your body doesn’t have enough fuel to burn for energy — the energy it needs to get a good night’s sleep (because the body is busy at night, even if you’re not conscious of it).
And your diet affects your sleep quality in many other ways. It can even help maximize how restful your night of sleep is.
Work eight hours and sleep eight hours and make sure that they are not the same hours.
– T. Boone Pickens
Here are six ways to improve your sleep quality with your diet:
1. Have an early dinner
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like everyone I know eats dinner way later than the average American family ever did.
Whether that’s true or not, eating a later dinner can have negative consequences for your sleep quality.
Why? Because consuming a big meal within hours of falling asleep means your digestive system is working on overdrive, leading to increased gastric acid production and an overactive pancreas and intestines.
All of this taken together means your system is churning and rolling while you sleep, stimulating your body and making you more restless rather than relaxed.
2. Eat frequently
While it’s common behavior to eat a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in practice, fewer and fewer working professionals are doing just that.
Instead, the norm has become something like:
- Wake up, grab a coffee
- Snack for lunch (got to get back to that project or never-ending stream of purchase orders)
- Chow down immensely for dinner, as if you haven’t eaten for weeks
By sheer luck, you might be taking advantage of some intermittent fasting benefits. However, what you’re doing to your body otherwise is anything but good.
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, for no reason other than to restore the body after several long hours of sleep. Which takes energy, by the way. You might be asleep, but your body is executing several important functions at night, like muscle repair and filing the memories of the day away in the brain.
In addition, you need to be eating frequently to allow your body to maintain the proper balance of chemicals, many of which are important for falling asleep at night.
3. Reserve coffee for the morning
I as much as anyone love the occasional afternoon Starbucks. However, coffee– and anything else with caffeine including my beloved matcha– really should be reserved for the morning unless you’re purposely pulling an all-nighter.
That’s because caffeine stays in your system for up to a whopping 12 hours, meaning that any caffeine you consume on or around lunch time might affect your ability to fall asleep and enter a restful state at night.
4. Relax with B vitamins, copper, and calcium
Certain vitamins are critical for improving your sleep quality. Others are just useful for increasing relaxation. All of these together can make a big impact on the quality of your sleep.
Here’s a quick list:
Several B vitamins are important for regulating the body’s serotonin production, a neurotransmitter which is critical for sleep.
Where to get B vitamins: Chicken, beef, fish such as salmon, come cereals (fortified), and bananas)
While not a serotonin producer, calcium is a natural relaxant that calms the nervous system, settling those nerves after a long day.
Where to get calcium: Dairy such as milk and cheese and some fortified orange juice
Similar to B vitamins, this has been shown to regulate serotonin.
Where to get copper: Legumes such as beans, whole grains, potatoes, and some leafy greens
Because so many different nutrients are critical for maintaining a good sleep quality, adopting a low-calorie diet means you’re risking developing a deficiency in one of these nutrients and, as a result, a deficiency in your sleep quality.
In addition to the nutrients above that help improve sleep quality and provide relaxation, low folic acid and a zinc deficiency have both been shown to cause insomnia. Low iron can also bring on a type of restless leg syndrome that can interrupt sleep.
All of these factors taken together means that when you’re dieting, you still need to make sure you’re getting enough of those critical nutrients. Otherwise, you’re not only messing up your sleep, but also everything else that good sleep helps with, such as weight loss.