Sleeping better with a right diet

Researchers say that post-eating tiredness increases more after a carb-rich meal than one full of protein and fat (both having the same calorie intake). For carb lovers this is splendid news: slow burning carbs are recommended as our evening meal because they induce sleep.  It goes without saying that slow-burn/brown/complex carbs are better than ‘fast’ carbs (i.e white flour and sugar). In my daily life this has meant that I prefer meat and protein for lunch and pasta and rice meals for dinner. And if you have a sweet tooth like I do, the recommendation is to leave the (small) treat to the evening. Works for me! I love my little sweet while winding down and watching telly. We all need some guilty pleasures, or at least I do!

Avocado pasta

My all-time-favourite supper: Avocado pasta. This is even better snooze-supper if combined with brown, slow-burning pasta.

Nutrition expert Tim Jones speaks about ‘adrenaline fatigue’ in The Times. He says that we can wake up too early (heart beating and anxious) simply due to a sudden drop in blood sugar. Adrenaline kicks in during the early hours to raise back the sunken sugar level. The bad news is that it brings along unwelcomed side-effects. It makes us feel anxious and irrational. Stress at work and coffee drinking can further worsen the situation by releasing more adrenalin and cortisol into our bloodstream. Suddenly we  feel even more anxious, exhausted and neurotic. Ditching coffee and sugar makes sense, doesn’t it? I found this strictness helpful in my acute insomnia phase. But as my sleeping improved it has been nice to allow some liberties. Life is for living after all – spartanian lifestyle is not for me and I sometimes wonder who really can live 100% organic and all-healthy all the time. Coffee doesn’t really suit me but I have hard time totally deleting all treats from my life. But it seems that this doesn’t need to be a problem at all.

MD and PhD Markku Partinen highlights that evening meal is the main meal of the day. This is when we should get most of our daily calorie and carb intake. However, don’t get it wrong, dinner should not be too heavy as that leads to bad sleep quality. Moderation is the magic word in here.

Having a (small) cup of coffee or tea right after lunch is also recommended as is little power nap (typically under 40 mins.) When you nap early afternoon it will only refresh the rest of the day and will not disturb your night sleep. I try to nap as often as circumstance so allow.  Napping, and resting in general, always kicks off my creativity. I also resolve problems while unwinding. Even 15 minutes can do the trick! Some experts recommend coffee right before the nap.

Eating in the evening impacts our sleep so that heavy and fatty meals worsen our sleep quality but light, carb-rich meals improve it. We also know that feasting decreases REM-sleep and increases NREM-sleep (deep sleep). It’s ideal to eat your main meal of the day around 1800-2000. I personally prefer to have it around 1700-1800 and then have a snack and something sweet around 2000-2100. As long as the amounts are small enough this is not going to increase your weight. Eating often and smaller doses is good for sensitive sleepers. This way the sugar levels remain stable and we can avoid insulin peaks and cramming.

Amino acid that releases tryptophan is IT for sensitive sleepers according to many studies. Experts say that eating food that is rich in tryptophan helps us to sleep better. An increase in the ratio of tryptophan will increase serotonin levels. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep.

Foods rich in tryptophan include: egg white, cod, raw soybeans, cheese, sesame seed, peanuts, lentils, sunflower seed, almond, poultry, oats, salmon, perch, raw chickpeas, white flour, dairy.

However, not everyone agrees. It seems that there are contradicting findings regarding tryptophan for sleep. Some experts argue that there is no guarantee that the tryptophan they contain will be converted to serotonin in the brain. Research also recommends some unrefined carbohydrate-rich food with every meal (carbs increase the amount of tryptophan transported from other foods to the brain), rather than too much heavy protein. Amounts seem to play crucial role. Heavy, big meals are not good for sensitive sleepers, especially in the evening.

Carbohydrates have gotten bad press lately, but complex carbohydrates do help you get sleepy, especially when eaten together with tryptophan-rich proteins.

Longer sleep has been associated with consuming more carbohydrates and less choline, which is found in eggs and fatty meats, and less chocolate and tea. This seems to support the general guidance that we should prefer carbs in the evening. My personal experience is that big beefs in the evening can really disturb my sleep and make my heart beat unnecessarily hard and fast.

In fact, many people who tried the low-carb diet when it was a craze not too long ago, did experience insomnia as a side effect. This was due not only to the lack of complex carbohydrates but also the excessive protein intake.

I swear by magnesium. Calcium and magnesium have been listed as important ingredients for sleep. If you do take supplements, make sure you take magnesium and calcium together. Calcium without magnesium is not recommended, as it is not as well utilized by the body. Also, if you have tendency to stress it often means that your magnesium stores are depleted. More about magnesium can be found here.

Foods rich in magnesium: Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish, beans and lentils, whole grains, avocado, low-fat dairy, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate.

Research shows that a light, 30 gram carbohydrate snack just before bed will actually help you to sleep better.

My favorite snacks before bed:

  • Peanut butter and whole meal bread
  • Almond milk and Weetabix
  • Avocado on rye bread
  • Cheese and crisp bread
  • Banana smoothie

Share your favourite evening snack!

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