Being a dietitian, people sometimes ask me, "Which foods help me sleep better?" The answer might surprise you. It's our routines around sleep and eating that have the biggest impact. However, there are some diet-specific tips that can help promote optimal sleep.
Do you drink a caffeine-containing drink because you feel tired in the afternoon, then have a hard time falling asleep at night? If so, then you might want to break this vicious cycle of "Feel sleepy-take more caffeine-stay awake-can't sleep at night". Try to limit your intake of caffeine. This article lists the caffeine content of common drinks and foods, and suggested caffeine limits for children.
If you go to bed hungry, then your hunger will likely keep you awake. If you overeat just before bedtime, your discomfort might keep you up and you might experience heartburn (gastro-esophageal reflux). Eat according to your hunger and fullness cues. Eat until comfortably satisfied—this amount will vary depending on many factors such as age, activity, growth, etc.
A general guideline is to eat at least an hour before bed time, but you can adapt this for your individual needs. Remember to brush and floss your teeth after your last meal or snack.
While the internet has lists of foods that claim to be sleep-inducing, the evidence for individual foods is not definitive. Nonetheless, these are some nutritious choices from the basic food groups which may help promote better sleep:
- whole grains, oats, cereal
- milk, yogurt
- walnuts, pistachios, nut butter
- leafy greens, vegetables
- banana, cherries, other fruits, and higher-fibre foods.
Research shows that inadequate sleep can lead to disruptions in self regulation. Hormones control appetite and mood, and when
we don't sleep enough this leads to eating more than we need. The internal signals for fatigue, sleep, and hunger can get mixed up, leading us to crave more high-sugar and high-fat foods when in fact sleep is what our bodies need.
Health Canada recommends melatonin for sleep problems for adults only. More research is needed in children and youth to establish the long-term safety of melatonin use. The Canadian Pediatric Society has an article, "Melatonin for the management of sleep disorders in children and adolescents".
Parents of youth should only consider short-term melatonin therapy in consultation with a physician, and after a trial of a sleep hygiene intervention.
When talking about healthy habits, people usually think of their eating and activity. Daytime physical activity does improve sleep quality and adequate sleep is needed to engage in physical activity. In addition, we know that sleep is linked to how we eat (and how much), our energy levels, our mood, and our ability to learn and work. Getting the right amount of sleep will help you reach your goals around health, learning, performance, and fitness.
If you'd like to learn more, call HealthLink BC, for free, at 8-1-1 to reach a nurse, dietitian, or exercise physiologist or check out Getting a Good Night's Sleep on Here to Help.
Written by Helen Yeung, Public Health Dietitian