Sleep is often an area of concern for many people. Whether it’s a crying baby at home or a stressful day at work that’s keeping you awake at night, a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on our productivity, mood, appetite and more. While it’s important to work on these external factors, it’s also important to feed your body the foods it needs to get a better rest. Here are three nutrients you should incorporate into your diet to help improve your sleep quality.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used by our bodies to produce a B vitamin called niacin. Niacin helps with digestion and energy metabolism. It’s also a precursor to serotonin, a brain chemical that plays an essential role in mood regulation and creates feelings of comfort and relaxation. When your serotonin level is high, you tend to feel better and therefore sleep better. On the other hand, when your serotonin level is low, your sleep can be more easily disrupted.
Meats, dairy and nuts are all high in tryptophan. While it’s true that you might feel sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving, it likely has no more tryptophan than the grilled chicken or steak you might enjoy at a summer cookout.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is another essential B vitamin that can help improve your sleep. Its main function is to release the energy that’s stored in our bodies as glycogen. As far as sleep goes, vitamin B6 may help by contributing to the neurotransmitter syntheses. It’s required in the production of a variety of brain chemicals, including serotonin and melatonin, meaning it might improve your sleep quality by helping to preserve your body’s circadian rhythm. Great sources of vitamin B6 include sunflower seeds, fish, bananas and avocados.
Research has shown that a dinner with plenty of carbohydrates may help improve your sleep. Consuming carbs causes an influx of insulin, which can impact our circadian clock by creating feelings of sleepiness, or sometimes sluggishness if the spike is too vigorous. Therefore, it might be helpful to consume carbs later in the day, leaving at least an hour or two to digest before going to bed.
That said, not all carbohydrates are created equal. We should embrace whole grains and avoid refined carbs like white pasta and sugary foods, as they tend to reduce serotonin levels and in general will not improve your sleep quality.
In addition to looking out for the above three nutrients, it’s also important to say no to coffee and other caffeinated foods and beverages late in the day. Most caffeinated drinks reach their peak effect one to four hours after consumption, but some can remain in your system for up to 12 hours.
Which foods and beverages do you eat to sleep better? Let us know in the comments below!