Does what you eat affect how well you sleep?
Absolutely. There are many ways that our diet can affect sleep. If you have food sensitivities and eat something that does not agree with you, then you may be in for a restless night. Alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime can also impact how well you sleep.There are also other dietary factors that may not seem as obvious at first, but can impact many of the body’s functions and can even contribute to increased risk for chronic health problems.
Take magnesium for example. Magnesium is an essential mineral. The essential designation comes from the fact that the human body needs this mineral but does not produce it, therefore we must get our magnesium from other sources such as magnesium-rich foods and/or supplementation. Diets that are rich in magnesium include foods such as:
- Dark leafy greens
- Seeds and nuts
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
Magnesium plays a role in essential functions of the human body such as healthy enzyme function, muscle and nerve function, blood pressure, glucose levels, fluid balance, stress response and bone health. Lower levels of magnesium can also result in trouble sleeping. Dr. Michael Breus, a Clinical Psychologist, also known as “The Sleep Doctor” states in a Psychology Today article “Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.”
Melatonin also plays a role in sleep. It is a hormone primarily produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Our body has a “clock” known as our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm directs a variety of functions from wakefulness and body temperature to metabolism and the release of hormones. Melatonin release responds to the amount of light entering our eyes. Melatonin levels increase at night signaling sleep and decrease during the day for wakefulness. These levels are also seasonal as the days shorten in Fall and Winter. Disruption of our circadian rhythm in instances such as jet lag, shift work and loss of vision have been the subject of clinical research identifying the use of melatonin for sleep. Light emitted from devices such as phones, computers etc., also can decrease melatonin levels, thus disrupting sleep.
As it turns out, Magnesium and Melatonin have several things in common. As with magnesium, melatonin levels can also decrease with age. Melatonin can also be found in the foods we eat such as nuts (especially pistachios), mushrooms, peppers, cherries and goji berries. A research group had been doing a study using tart cherry juice for its anti-inflammatory properties to see if consuming the juice could reduce muscle soreness. In an article on melatonin for NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger noted that based on anecdotal comments from participants in the study about improved sleep, the researchers performed an additional study measuring the melatonin levels and did see increased levels.
An article in Healthline noted research has also uncovered a relationship between magnesium levels and melatonin in that magnesium too affects hormonal release and therefore melatonin and our circadian rhythms.
It can be difficult to get everything our bodies need in sufficient amounts through the foods we eat. Sometimes supplementation may be necessary. It is worth noting that with added stress, chronic illness or aging, we can look for ways to improve function by helping restore balance.
A good night's sleep sounds like a great way to start!