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In a perfect world, you would slip into sleep naturally and peacefully every night. But in the real world, a solid eight hours of sleep is an elusive and highly sought-after commodity.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffers from screwy sleep patterns, you’ve probably tried everything to get your sleep cycle back in order — over-the-counter sleeping pills, prescription sleep aids, herbs, exercise, black out curtains, meditation, a digital detox.
And maybe one or more of these things has helped you. But if you’re still struggling with sleep problems, you should consider trying one more thing before you surrender yourself to a lifetime of restless sleep…
A new diet.
Your diet affects every function in your body. So it’s no surprise that it also plays a role in how well you sleep.
Of course, specific foods are known for their narcoleptic effect (like tryptophan-rich turkey on Thanksgiving).
But if you really want to banish bad sleep patterns for good, you need to take a step back and look at how your overall dietary habits could be stopping you from sleeping soundly.
For example, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently found that overweight people experience less slow wave sleep — which means their sleep is less restorative.
They also found that eating more protein resulted in more REM sleep — which is definitely important — but not as restorative as slow-wave stages of sleep.
And a study that came out earlier this year from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that how much fiber, sugar and saturated fat you eat all play a substantial role in how well you sleep.
So if you’re ready to see if a “sleep diet” could be the solution to your sleepless nights, here’s a rundown of the dietary changes you can make to sleep more soundly:
- Eat more fiber. When you eat more fiber, you spend more time in slow-wave, restorative sleep. Eating more fiber also helps you stay healthy as you age and live longer — so eating a fiber-rich diet is a win-win.
- Eat less saturated fat. Foods filled with saturated fat are notorious sleep stealers. Not only do they result in less slow-wave sleep, but they’re also known triggers for acid reflux, which causes sleep troubles for many people.
- Say sayonara to sugar. Eating a lot of sugar does not make for a sweet night’s sleep. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sugar arouses your nervous system and causes you to wake up more frequently during the night.
- Cut out alcohol and caffeine. This one’s kind of a no brainer. If you have chronic sleep problems, you shouldn’t be drinking caffeine. And if you really can’t give up your morning cup of Joe, at least avoid caffeinated beverages during the second half of your day. Drinking alcohol is also a surefire way to have a bad night’s sleep. You may pass out quicker when you’ve been drinking, but your quality of sleep after a few cocktails leaves much to be desired. It tends to be more disrupted and less restorative.
The good news is that researchers from Columbia University Medical Center also found that diet impacts your sleep patterns immediately — so if you eat less saturated fat and more fiber today, you should sleep more soundly tonight.
“Weight and diet may help predict sleep quality.” University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. MedicalXpress. http://medicalxpress.com. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
P. St-Onge, A. Roberts, A. Shechter, A.R. Choudhury “Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2016;12(1):19–24.
“This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep.” Time. http://time.com. Retrieved June 11, 2016.