Health & Wellness

The Sleep Diet: The Link Between ZZZs and Eats

Getting a good night’s sleep starts with making smarter food choices—here’s a handy guide.
The Sleep Diet: The Link Between ZZZs and Eats

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Jill Waldbieser

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Jill Waldbieser,   

Jun 16, 2020 • 4 min read

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It’s hard to overestimate the impact getting good sleep has on your overall well being. Adequate sleep affects everything from cognitive function to your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Sleeping well may be the #1 thing you can do to safeguard your health. Crazily enough though, around one-third of Americans don’t get enough shuteye, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, and that number has been trending upward for a while now. Clearly, netting those seven to nine hours a night isn’t easy, despite literally being able to do it with your eyes closed. 

One surprising thing that might help: Watching what you eat. “We know from population studies that individuals with poor sleep quality and insomnia have lower dietary quality,” says Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D, FAHA, CCSH, associate professor of nutritional medicine and director of the Sleep Center of Excellence at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. “They tend to consume more sugary foods, skip breakfast, and consume fewer fruits and vegetables.”

Conversely, better sleep is associated with better dietary habits. “In our clinical studies, we’ve shown that consuming more fiber and less saturated fat is associated with more deep sleep at night,” says St-Onge. Two specific diets that were linked with improved sleep and reduced risk of insomnia, respectively, are a low glycemic index (GI) diet (lots of whole grains, few processed carbohydrates) and a Mediterranean-style diet (heavy on produce, fish, and whole grains). 

Balance Your Carbs and Protein

No one knows exactly how those diets influence sleep quality, but the balance of carbohydrates to protein plays a key role, says St-Onge. That balance affects the levels of certain key sleep hormones, including tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, which in turn is needed to make melatonin, the main hormone that regulates sleep. There is speculation that high-carb diets may cause other internal changes that can lead to sleep disruptions—for example, by delaying the release of melatonin, slowing the drop in core body temperature that’s needed for sleep, and suppressing growth hormones—but further research is needed.

While specific foods, such as turkey and cherries, have been called out for their concentrations of sleep-inducing compounds like tryptophan or melatonin, St-Onge believes no one food is a magic bullet. Research studies often use concentrated doses of nutrients that would be difficult to consume naturally. What matters more, she says, is the quality of your entire diet. 

Watch the Sugar, Caffeine and Alcohol

That said, it can be a good idea to limit or avoid known sleep disruptors, including caffeine-containing foods and beverages, high-sugar foods, and alcohol. Overconsuming sugar has been associated with an increased number of nighttime awakenings, and alcohol, despite being a depressant, can up the frequency of sleep disturbances as it is metabolized. So even if booze initially helps you fall asleep, it likely won’t keep you asleep or feeling well-rested.

It’s also a good idea to try to have your last meal or snack between two and three hours before hitting the sack, particularly if you are carrying a few extra pounds. Eating later in the day has been linked to increased body weight and increased sleep disruptions.

With the impact diet has on sleep quality, duration, and the ability to fall asleep, it pays to adopt eating habits that will assist you in getting a good night’s sleep. Limiting processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and saturated fats, and aiming to get the recommended amount of fiber in your diet are all good steps to start with, and will leave you feeling better, night and day. 

If you take a prescription for your insomnia like zolpidem (generic Ambien) or lorazepam (generic Ativan), a healthy diet paired with your treatment plan can make all the difference in getting a night of restful sleep. Fill your prescription with Blink Health to see if you can get your medication for less and shipped straight to your door for free.

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This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.

Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.

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