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Nutrition Tips to Help You Sleep Better

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Nutrition Tips to Help You Sleep Better
By: Rosie Lam, dietetic student at McGill University, reviewed and edited by registered dietitian, Maude Morin, and JM Nutrition Team
In this post:
The basic mechanism of sleep
What controls when you get tired?
Why is sleep important?
What is keeping you up at night?
Sleep and diet
Nutrition tips to help you sleep better
Nutrition tips to help you sleep better is a topic that haven’t tackled previously in our posts, at least not comprehensively. Because more and more of our clients seem to be showing interest in a diet to help sleep, we decided to cover the topic in some depth.
It is common knowledge that nutrition and sleep are two foundational pillars of leading a healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition is what fuels our body during the day. Meanwhile, sleep helps our body repair itself, so that we can feel rejuvenated for a new day.
Then why do we always choose to neglect sleep first when our lives become busy?
It’s the purpose of this post to explore the interconnected relationship between nutrition and sleep, and how what you eat can positively affect your rest.
Before we take a look at specific, actionable nutrition tips for better sleep, it’s important to examine the basic mechanism of sleep.
The Basic Mechanism of Sleep
To understand how we can improve sleep quantity and quality, it’s critical to first understand how sleep works.
Two stages of sleep occur during a sleep cycle: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Both NREM and REM sleep have been shown to help improve our memory.
REM sleep is usually associated with dreams, muscle relaxation and the rapid movement of the eye.
During our sleep, we often cycle between NREM and REM sleep 3 to 4 times per cycle, with 4 to 6 cycles per night. It is important that we can complete these sleep cycles as irregular sleep cycling, or the absence of sleep stages, are characteristics of sleeping disorders (Colten & Altevogt, 2015).
But what controls when you get tired?
Your body uses two different processes to control when you get tired and when you fall asleep.
1) Circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm acts as your body’s internal clock (Reddy et al., 2018). It controls the sleep-wake cycle and responds to changes in light in the environment. This is why we often sleep in the dark and feel more tired in dimly lit places.
The circadian rhythm is also responsible for telling your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. Melatonin production is highly influenced by your diet, as well as other hormonal changes in your body.
Related: dietitian for hormonal balancing
2) Sleep-wake homeostasis
The second process is called sleep-wake homeostasis.
Homeostasis is your body’s natural process of maintaining a constant environment for chemical processes in the body to occur properly. Sleep is a homeostatic process. That is, the need for sleep will increase the longer you are awake. And, sleeping is the only way to satisfy this need.
Why is sleep so important?
Although what really happens during sleep is still unknown, we know that sleep is important because it has a restorative function.
In addition, a variety of hormones are released when we sleep, including growth hormones, which is why it is crucial that children and teenagers get an adequate amount of sleep (Assefa et al., 2015).
What’s more, sleep is also critical for neurological processes, learning and memory, and for disease prevention (Assefa et al., 2015).
Muscle recovery, fat oxidation and hormone production also benefit from adequate sleep.
Conversely, sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk in developing diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
For these reasons sleep is very important.
What is keeping you up at night?
Health Canada recommends adults aged 18 to 64 get anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
Reality, however, is different.
A study found that around 35% of adults do not get enough sleep. Meanwhile, 1 in 3 adults have difficulties with falling asleep or staying asleep (Chaput et al., 2017).
Why is this the case?
Stress, age, health status, and other worries seem to be the most common factors keeping adults up at night (Williams, 2001).
In comparison, the most common factors for poor sleep in children seem to be hormonal changes in puberty, a poor bedtime routine, and over-scheduling or poor time management.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, sleeping disorders might be the reason why you are having sleeping difficulties. Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and parasomnia are the most common sleeping disorders.
Diet and sleep: can sleep affect your eating habits?
Without a doubt, sleep affects eating habits. This is precisely the reason why we feel it’s important to provide nutrition tips to help you sleep better.
Sleep and food intake are more interconnected than most think.
Reason being, both habits are influenced by your circadian rhythm (Inoue, 2015). You naturally want to eat during the day, and to sleep at night.
What’s more, your appetite is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
When leptin is released, your appetite is suppressed. However, ghrelin causes you to feel hungrier, when it is released.
Interestingly, a study found that sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in ghrelin levels (Sharma & Kavuru, 2010). Because of this, you are more likely to consume more food the longer you are awake. In addition to eating more, you are also more likely to crave high-calorie foods such as sweets, salty or starchy foods.
Furthermore, metabolism is one of the main functions of sleep.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is the process where our body converts what we eat into energy that the body can use. When we sleep, our body adopts a low metabolic rate, which helps to conserve energy for the next day. Having a low metabolic rate during NREM sleep also helps the body repair and recover from any injuries it suffered from during the day (Sharma & Kavuru, 2010).
In addition, sleep metabolism helps the body regulate our glucose level and blood sugar (Sharma & Kavuru, 2010). This explains why sleep deprivation can cause a significant change in the way your body processes glucose.
For all these reasons a diet to help sleep in indispensable.
Related: Metabolism 101
Nutrition Tips to Help You Sleep Better
1. Reduce caffeine intake
Surely, this is a fundamental nutrition tip to help you sleep better.
An obvious way to improve sleep is simply to reduce caffeine intake.
Reason being, caffeine is a natural stimulant that is found in products such as tea, coffee, and chocolate.
While the consumption of caffeine can help promote wakefulness, there are associated drawbacks.
Although caffeine is considered an antioxidant (a substance found in some foods that helps protect your cells from damage) with many beneficial effects such as protecting you against heart diseases and inflammation, your caffeine intake may be keeping you up at night.
Moreover, studies show that caffeine can reduce your overall sleep quality and quantity by increasing the time it takes you to fall asleep. It can also reduce how much sleep you get (Clark & Landolt, 2017).
To enjoy your caffeinated product of choice and not impact your sleep quality, you should avoid the consumption of caffeine for at least 6 hours before your bedtime (Drake et al., 2013).
Another way to continue drinking coffee without caffeine is to choose decaffeinated products such as decaf coffee and decaf tea.
2. Time your meals properly
Another important nutrition tip for better sleep centres around timing of meals.
When you eat dinner is a factor in improving your sleep. There’s a negative impact on sleep quality, when you skip meals and eat late at night.
A study has found that eating late at night can affect your sleep latency, which is how long it takes you to fall asleep (Yoshitake et al., 2023).
On the other hand, eating too early may cause you to feel hungry before your bedtime. This could make it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
So, what is the best time to eat dinner?
Eat dinner at least 5 hours before you go to sleep to reduce the time it takes for you to fall asleep (Yoshitake et al., 2023).
We strongly encourage to add this element to your diet to help sleep.
3. Add Omega-3 fats to your diet
This is no doubt another important nutrition tip to help you sleep better.
Omega-3 fats are a form of unsaturated, healthy fats that are important in the regulation of serotonin.
Why is this noteworthy?
There is substantial research to show that omega-3 fats are beneficial to REM sleep and improving your sleep efficiency (Papandreou, 2013).
Not only that, but these fats are also good for your blood cholesterol, heart health and brain health.
Add more omega-3 fats to your diet and eat more fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon. You can also consume other plant-based sources of Omega-3 such as chia seeds, walnuts and olive oil.
4. Consume tryptophan
No diet to help sleep list would be complete without the mention of tryptophan.
Perhaps you have heard of the saying that a glass of milk before bed can help you get a good night’s sleep?
This is because of milk’s tryptophan content.
Adding tryptophan-rich foods or a tryptophan supplement to your diet may help you sleep better at night.
What is tryptophan?
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many protein sources that is used by the body to produce two important hormones: melatonin and serotonin (Binks et al., 2020).
While melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle, serotonin regulates your sleep, appetite and mood. Low melatonin and serotonin levels can lead to an increase in sleep disturbances and an increased risk in developing insomnia.
For this reason, consume more animal-based proteins such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs to help increase your tryptophan intake.
Plant-based products such as quinoa, soy and buckwheat are also good alternatives, if you are on a plant-based diet.
5. Take in Vitamin B12
This is the fifth and last nutrition tip to help you sleep better.
Like tryptophan, vitamin B12 helps with the production of melatonin (Honma et al., 1992).
What’s more, vitamin B12 is an antioxidant, which helps protect your cells from damage.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to add this vitamin to your sleep diet, vitamin B12 deficiency can also lead to the development of anemia.
Anemia is a condition where you do not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to other tissues and organs in the body.
Complications of vitamin B12 anemia can cause problems with your vision, mobility and coordination, as well as memory loss.
Some sources of vitamin B12 to add in your diet are beef, sardines, clams, and dairy products such as fortified milk.
When a product is fortified, vitamins and nutrients that are usually not found naturally in the food, or found in small quantities, are added to the food. This is usually done to help prevent vitamin deficiencies in the overall population.
While this diet to help sleep tip may of slightly lesser importance, nevertheless it is worth considering. 
Nutrition tips to help you sleep better final thoughts
Undoubtedly, it is crucial to prioritize sleep, as getting high quality sleep can help improve your mood, mental and physical health, your memory, as well as brain health. For this reason a diet to help sleep should not be overlooked. 
When you adopt these nutrition or diet tips, you can significantly improve your overall sleep, as well as the quality of your life.
We hope that the information on a diet to help sleep has been of some help.
If you’re interested in a personalized nutritional counselling for sleep nutrition, book a free consultation and we will certainly provide assistance. 
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References and Resources
1. Assefa, S. Z., Diaz-Abad, M., Wickwire, E. M., & Scharf, S. M. (2015). The Functions of Sleep. AIMS Neuroscience, 2(3), 155–171. https://doi.org/10.3934/neuroscience.2015.3.155
2. Binks, H., E. Vincent, G., Gupta, C., Irwin, C., & Khalesi, S. (2020). Effects of Diet on Sleep: a Narrative Review. Nutrients, 12(4), 936. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12040936
3. Canada, P. H. A. of. (2019, September 6). Are Canadian Adults Getting Enough sleep? Infographic. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-adults-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html
4. Chaput, J.-P., Wong, S., & Michaud, I. (2017). Health Reports Duration and quality of sleep among Canadians aged 18 to 79. https://fatiguemanagersnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/Chaput-et-al.2017_Duration-and-Quality-of-Sleep-Among-Canadians-Aged-18-79.pdf
5. Clark, I., & Landolt, H. P. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 31, 70–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.006
6. Colten, H. R., & Altevogt, B. M. (2015). Sleep Physiology. Nih.gov; National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19956/
7. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 09(11). https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3170
8. Honma, K., Kohsaka, M., Fukuda, N., Morita, N., & Honma, S. (1992). Effects of vitamin B12 on plasma melatonin rhythm in humans: increased light sensitivity phase-advances the circadian clock? Experientia, 48(8), 716–720. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02124286
9. Inoue, Y. (2015). Sleep-related eating disorder and its associated conditions. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 69(6), 309–320. https://doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12263
10. Papandreou, C. (2013). Independent associations between fatty acids and sleep quality among obese patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Journal of Sleep Research, 22(5), 569–572. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12043
11. Reddy, S., Sharma, S., & Reddy, V. (2018, October 27). Physiology, Circadian Rhythm. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519507/
12. Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2010, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/270832
13. Williams, C. (2001). You snooze, you lose? – Sleep patterns in Canada. Statistics Canada, 11(8). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/11-008-x/2000004/article/5558-eng.pdf?st=NzVgmtrVhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22629173/#:~:text=A%20common%20symptom%20of%20insufficient,require%20extended%20actions%20during%20night.
14. Yoshitake, R., Park, I., Ogata, H., & Omi, N. (2023). Meal Timing and Sleeping Energy Metabolism. Nutrients, 15(3), 763. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15030763
About authors:
Rosie Lam is a nutritional sciences student at McGill University in Montreal and a dietetic student-volunteer at JM Nutrition.
Maude Morin is a registered dietitian who specializes in a wide variety of areas, including women’s health, digestive health, weight management and more.
Our nutrition blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2021, 2022 & 2023 and one of the Top Canadian Nutrition Blogs by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe below to both the newsletter that includes latest blog posts. 
JM Nutrition is a nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists. Main office: JM Nutrition Toronto.

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