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Sleep is such an essential need, so much so that if we don’t do it, we could die, however, we often underestimate its importance. Many experts consider it just as important as our diets, moods, and physical activity.
In Spain, 1 in 3 people suffer from some kind of sleep disorder (1), among these are nightmares- which although frequently occur with children, they can happen at any age-, something that is often overlooked unless you suffer from these on a nightly basis. This topic is becoming more popular but there is still a lot that people don’t know. So I would like to help clarify the following questions:
- How can poor sleep affect your health?
- What foods can interrupt your sleep?
- How can your diet help you sleep better?
Negative Side Effects of Poor Sleep
The effects associated with a lack of sleep can slightly affect your health, and in extreme cases put your life at risk; if you see the following effects in both the short and long-term:
- Exhaustion and fatigue during the day;
- Irritation and/or Anxiety;
- Lack of focus or changes to your memory;
- Reflexes are affected, leading to an increased risk of having some kind of accident;
- Greater risk of suffering from changes in your weight, obesity, hypertension, and other cardiovascular illnesses. (1),(2)
The general recommendation of a good night’s sleep is between 7 and 8 hours (the duration and hours of rest will vary depending on each person), however, the idea is that you wake up easily and feeling rested. (2). Easy enough to understand, harder to do! That’s why it helps using tools to help us sleep like meditation, creating a welcoming environment, and others…. But did you know that food can also help you sleep better? Or that what you eat could be making your sleep worse?
The Foods That Cause Nightmares
This is not an exaggeration! Although this occurs in the most extreme cases of sleep deprivation or insomnia, all those foods that hinder or interrupt your sleep can also cause you to have nightmares (3). Some of which are:
- Chocolate: stay away from this if you want to have a restful night’s sleep. When it comes to white or milk chocolate, it’s the sugar content that’s to blame as it’s a stimulant. And, in the case of dark chocolate, it’s the presence of caffeine and a substance called theobromine which are both mild stimulants. Although dark chocolate provides other substances such as phenylethylamine and anandamide that promote relaxation, it is advisable to avoid these types of products before going to sleep.
- Stimulating Drinks: I know it seems obvious, however, there are many people who have the habit of, and who perhaps are not conscious of the fact that drinking juices or soft drinks before bed can activate our bodies and prevent us from falling asleep.
- Excess of water or any other liquid: hydration is important, but it should be done throughout the day, if you drink a large portion of your water right before bed, you will interrupt your sleep by having to get up to use the restroom throughout the night.
- Legumes: are considered flatulent foods that produce gases, therefore it isn’t recommendable to eat them at night as they can affect your sleep.
5 Foods To Help You Sleep Better.
The key is to choose foods that will relax you and promote the production of serotonin in the body- yes, that famous happy-feeling hormone-, helping you to want to relax so you may fall asleep easier. The key nutrients here are the amino acid tryptophan, Omega-3 fat, and the minerals magnesium and zinc. Which you can find in the following foods:
Nuts: they provide minerals like magnesium and unsaturated fats like Omega-3, which will help you produce serotonin; additionally, they are rich in B vitamins that help the nervous system to function properly, promoting good rest.
Don’t just see them as a good snack option, take advantage of their benefits by using them in a salad, or some of your main dishes, like chicken or salmon with peanuts. Oh and don’t leave out natural nut creams as another way to incorporate them into your meals so you can enjoy the benefits of their nutrients.
Dairy: rich in tryptophan, vitamins like B12, and minerals like magnesium and zinc, all great for some good rest. You have a wide variety of foods in this group that are excellent dinner options such as yogurt, cheese, and milk, and that you can eat alone or as part of a main dish, such as with a burrata salad. The most important thing is to always look for the most natural option.
Fish: particularly bluefish – which are the ones that provide the most fat – such as tuna, anchovies, sardines, or salmon, which are a great source of Omega-3, tryptophan, and vitamins such as B12. So, salmon with guacamole and white asparagus, or a piece of baked fish with vegetables, would be excellent dinner options. Besides, the proteins from fish are easier to digest than those from red meat, making them a better dinner option.
Egg: It’s an easy to digest protein for dinner, which has a good supply of tryptophan and vitamin B12, so get ready to make some omelets! You can also prepare them scrambled, sunny-side up, hard-boiled… the options are limitless… The important thing is to avoid complex dishes to facilitate better digestion.
Avocado: one of my favorites! Besides being rich in tryptophan and Omega-3, it’s ideal for preparing easy and delicious meals. Don’t believe me? Check out this recipe for baked avocado egg boats.
Put it into perspective.
As I always say, nothing is good in excess! This is no exception. If your dinners are too heavy, most of the circulation will go to your digestive system in order to process the food, instead of going to repair the cells in your body. This signal becomes confusing to the body, causing you to neither sleep well nor digest the food well.
Avoid overloading your digestive system by eating light meals, and preparing simple dishes, avoiding things that are battered and fried.
Eat Better to Sleep Better.
There are many natural tools that you can take advantage of to improve your sleep patterns. As always, food plays an important role! So if you want to sleep better, be sure to put these tips into practice which will in turn continue to improve your overall quality of life.
What do you do to sleep better?
Do you find this topic interesting? Learn more in these other similar posts:
- 9 tips to help you sleep better
- The Value of Sleep.