The food sleep connection

The Food Sleep Connection: Using nutrition to help you and your children get better sleep

Having a young family can go hand in hand with sleep deprivation. Perhaps you’ve got a baby who is not sleeping through the night yet or you have little ones teething? Or maybe your children wake up with nightmares or just wake up very early! Whatever the reason it’s really hard to enjoy your day and do everything you need to do when you haven’t had as much sleep as you’d like. So we need to maximise the quality and quantity of any sleep you do have. The food we eat can affect our sleep, we can utilise this food sleep connection to increase the quality of any sleep you have so you’re more likely to wake up feeling rested. Food tweaks can also help you to get to sleep more easily when you’re little one finally lets you get back to bed!

The good news is these nutrition tips can be used for the whole family so as well as improving your sleep these food sleep tips could also help your children to sleep better too!

Food tips to improve sleep

Consider if you need to turn things upside down?

Most of us start the day with a quick breakfast, grab something for lunch then we might have an afternoon snack, go home for our evening meal, have something sweet, then perhaps a snack…. Our day is often bottom heavy with food which makes it harder to sleep well. See if you can begin to turn this around and eat more at the beginning of the day and less later on.

Eat as much ‘real food’ as possible

Eating less fibre, more saturated fat and more sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative and more disturbed sleep. Processed foods are often high in saturated fat and sugar with little fibre so reducing these and having more ‘real foods’ (natural, unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, eggs, fish, beans, etc) is a great way to improve the nutrient quality of your diet whilst possibly helping you sleep better too. A good place to start is with snacks, keep some fruit or trail mix on hand so you don’t have to have the high sugar snacks which are available everywhere.

Choose food which will nourish you

To sleep well the hormones and neurotransmitters involved need to be balanced. Giving your body the right fuel with a good balance of macronutrients and enough micro nutrients enables this to happen. For example, zinc and calcium are natural muscle relaxants and copper regulates serotonin (a brain chemical needed for sleep).

Keep nutrient rich foods such as tins of beans, packets of nuts*, ready to cook whole grain pouches (bulgur wheat, quinoa) and wholemeal pittas to hand to put together nourishing meals and snacks. Make pizzas for the family using wholemeal pittas as the base or make yourself a big salad with bulgur wheat, beans, nuts* and salad to last a few days.

Have fruit salad for pudding

There are specific fruits which have been shown to improve sleep. Cherries have been shown to reduce the time to fall asleep by 17 minutes in a small study1. Another recent study found having 2 kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime improves the amount and efficiency of sleep2. Bananas could also help you to sleep better, they are rich in potassium which helps your muscles to relax so helping your body be ready to fall asleep (given the opportunity!). A bowl of fruit salad with cherries, kiwi and banana may help you sleep better and will be a fabulous nutrient packed pudding regardless!

Adjust your caffeine cut off time (tip for parents only!)

Caffeine stays in our system for up to 24 hours! Even caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed has been shown to reduce sleep by more than 1 hour. Caffeine can be a really useful stimulant. To use it to its advantage enjoy a cup of coffee during the morning and try and bring your caffeine cut off point earlier in the day, before 2 pm if you can. The effects of cutting caffeine can be seen really quickly, not having caffeine for a single day has been shown to improve sleep quality.

Eating a little less in the evening, making some tweaks to your lunch and cutting back on afternoon coffee and tea are all fairly small tweaks which could have a big impact on how much sleep you get and how good this sleep is. A happy chain reaction then begins; if you’ve had little bit more high quality, restorative sleep you’ll feel better the next day which will affect your food choices, therefore you’ll sleep better that night and so on…

Try these tips for you and your family and let us know how you get on. If you would like food ideas appropriate for your family or would like nutrition advice to help with sleep or something else please get in touch (rebecca@relishwellbeing.com) or book a nutrition discovery session (https://www.relishwellbeing.com/nutritiondiscovery)

* Please see recommended ages for giving nuts to children http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-baby.aspx

1. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food 2010;13:579–83

2. Lin HH, Tsai PS, Fang SC, Liu JF. Effect of kiwi fruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems.Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2011;20:169–74