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Are you sleeping less than usual? The answer may be in your meal plan

Though research is scanty on nutrition-sleep connection, there is well-documented evidence that certain foods and drinks can improve sleep quality.

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Is your day lethargic despite seven hours of sleep? Is your sleep less than usual? If yes, then you might want to take a look at your meal plan throughout the day. Sleep can be directly related to your diet and drinking habits. Sleep deprivation in India is as high as 33 per cent among adults, according to a 2019 study. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many lost sleep due to stress, job loss, uncertainty, and social isolation. Poor sleep can affect your hormones, brain function, immune system, psychological health, and energy levels. For example, academic Maitri Agarwal and colleagues reported the prevalence of anxiety among 392 participants at 25.3 per cent during the pandemic, with sleep deprivation identified as one of the major determinants. Experimental sleep restrictions were found to be associated with dysregulation of neurological hormones, increased hunger, impaired glucose tolerance, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, poor quality sleep can significantly affect weight loss.

Ensuring quality sleep is an integral part of holistic wellbeing. Let’s check out how quality sleep can be helped by good nutrition and hydration.

Also Read: A long, unbroken night of sleep may not be enough for you, new study shows

Nutrition-sleep connection

Research is scanty on nutrition-sleep connections. There is, however, well-documented evidence that certain foods and drinks can improve sleep quality. Here’s what we know.

Coffee has numerous health benefits. But, drinking a large cup of coffee right before bedtime has a negative impact on sleep. Caffeine is a brain stimulator, it keeps your neurons active and firing, and awake for longer. A study revealed disrupted sleep among participants who consumed caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime. So, if your sleep time is 10 p.m., avoid drinking high amounts of coffee after 4 p.m. Caffeine increases the risk of daytime sleepiness and affects the body’s normal clock. A 2015 study from the United States found caffeine to delay the internal clock of the participants by 40 minutes.

Alcohol is also a sleep-killer. After drinking alcohol, you might feel sleepy at first, but your sleep gets disturbed later in the night, leaving you with lethargy and drowsy in the morning. This phenomenon is common among healthy, non-alcoholic individuals, says researcher Timothy Roehrs in a study discussing the effects of alcohol on sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. According to some studies, alcohol elevates the level of growth hormone and melatonin that affect the body’s circadian rhythm.

Greasy, heavily spiced foods can cause poor sleep. A 1992 study reported disrupted sleep in six healthy males who consumed tabasco sauce and mustard with their evening meal. John Hopkins sleep expert Charlene E Gamaldo, M.D., mentions heavy meal-induced post-prandial acid reflux, heartburn, as major reasons for sleep disturbance.

Food and drinks that help

What we eat influences sleep patterns by regulating melatonin, the sleep hormone. Essential amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, and eating protein-enriched foods such as turkey, chicken and eggs may be beneficial in ensuring quality sleep. Tryptophan also produces serotonin, a hormone to bring happiness and a sense of wellbeing, which are necessary for an uninterrupted sleep at night. Additionally, micronutrients such as selenium, magnesium, zinc, Omega-3, and Vitamin D are associated with good sleep. Eating food that is particularly rich in these nutrients must be included in your ‘sleep-promoting’ eating plan.

Although not much research is available to establish the connection between foods, drinks, and sleep, here are some foods and drinks that may help you with quality sleep.

Walnuts are rich in a sleep-friendly nutrient – magnesium. Melatonin, present in walnuts, may boost good sleep as well. Walnuts also provide alpha-linolenic acid, an Omega-3 that helps increase the serotonin level and alleviate depression and anxiety disorders that are closely connected to insomnia.

Almonds, which are rich in magnesium, provide 19 per cent of your daily requirement of 28 grams. Magnesium is found to be beneficial for those with severe insomnia. An animal-based study found rats sleep longer when fed with 400 milligrams of almond extract. Human studies are rare in this regard.

Kiwis are a well-known sleep aid as they promote the regulation of serotonin, a hormone that helps with quality sleep. Eating kiwi for four weeks led the participants to fall asleep 42 per cent quicker than normal. Sleep time increased by 13 per cent and sleep quality increased by 5 per cent as reported by the authors.

Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and basa are highly nutritious. These fish are rich sources of Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids – both of which boost serotonin secretion. Serotonin regulates the sleep cycle and mood. A 2014 study from Norway found participants who ate 300g of salmon fell asleep 10 minutes earlier than those who didn’t eat the fish.

A glass of warm milk before bed is recommended by many professionals to fall asleep quickly. The reason behind this could be that tryptophan in milk helps produce melatonin. According to a research conducted by Lin Zheng, Mouming Zhao, and others, milk contains casein trypsin hydrolysate (CTH) that showed quick sleep-inducing impacts on mice.

Herbal teas such as chamomile and decaffeinated green tea are found to promote quality sleep. Apigenin, an antioxidant found in chamomile tea, is responsible for the sleep-inducing property of this tea. People who drank chamomile tea were found to fall asleep 15 minutes faster with less experience of nighttime wakening than those who didn’t, reported a 2011 study. Decaffeinated green tea, on the other hand, is a rich source of L-theanine, an amino acid that can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality.

What else matters if you are already suffering from sleep issues? It’s best to avoid food that hinders quality sleep. Apart from nutrition, sticking to a bedtime routine, practicing yoga and meditation, regular physical activity, avoiding naps during the day, avoiding too much blue light, and keeping aside electronic devices are some useful strategies to ensure quality sleep.

Dr Subhasree Ray is Doctoral Scholar (Ketogenic Diet), a certified diabetes educator, and a clinical and public health nutritionist. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

Also Read: Now sleeping longer than 6.5 hours a night associated with cognitive decline


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