Tired of Being Tired? Try these science-backed nutrition tips for insomnia
Keep reading for 4 nutrition tips you can do right now to get a better night’s sleep.
Are you tired of constantly saying hello to 3:00 am? About 30% of US adults have struggled with some form of insomnia, and 10% have chronic, long-term insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep has a direct impact on just about every aspect of your health, and can truly make or break your success when it comes to reaching your health goals.
Recommended Reading: Everyday Habits that Lead to Overeating and How to Stop Doing Them
But before you call in a prescription for a sleeping pill, try these science-backed nutrition tips you can do right now to treat insomnia the natural way.
Nutrition Tips for Insomnia
01 - BE MINDFUL ALCOHOL
That weekday nightcap might be doing more harm than good when it comes to your sleep. Yes, it’s true that alcohol can help you fall asleep, but at what cost?
Alcohol interferes with your quality of sleep by blocking REM sleep. REM sleep is the deepest state of sleep where we dream, form long term memories, and boost cognitive processes like concentration and learning. Without REM sleep it’s hard to feel well rested, even if you are clocking in enough hours of sleep.
How much alcohol is too much when it comes to sleep?
Everyone’s tolerance is different, but women may be especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol on sleep because they metabolize alcohol faster than men (1). Even just one drink can affect your quality of sleep so experiment to see what amount you can tolerate. In my practice, I have found that eliminating alcohol on weekdays has done wonders for my clients’ sleep.
02 - KEEP CAFFEINE IN CHECK
It’s also important to take an honest look at your caffeine intake if you have trouble sleeping. The effect of caffeine varies depending on the person, but generally speaking our body metabolizes caffeine in about 5 - 6 hours. So drinking caffeinated beverages later in the day can make getting to bed early a lot harder. Caffeine can also disrupt your circadian rhythm (more on this below) by stimulating the release of cortisol, a hormone that keeps you awake and alert. As a diuretic, caffeine can indirectly affect sleep by triggering frequent bathroom trips in the middle of the night.
How much caffeine is much is too much when it comes to sleep?
As with alcohol, women are even more sensitive to the effects of caffeine on sleep, especially during certain times of their cycle (between ovulation and menstruation) and if they are taking birth control (2).
For people who have trouble sleeping, I usually recommend avoiding caffeine after your morning cup and definitely not past 2:00 pm. Swapping out coffee for green tea and sometimes quitting caffeine altogether is necessary depending on your sensitivity.
Not sure if you are a slow or fast caffeine metabolizer? Check out my article in HuffPost for tips on how to tell if coffee is right for you.
03 - GET MORE MAGNESIUM
Magnesium plays a key role in supporting over 300 different enzymes in the body. As a result, magnesium has widespread benefits for our health, including supporting energy production, blood pressure management, cholesterol and blood sugar regulation, strengthening bone health, maintaining fluid balance as an electrolyte, helping muscle, nerve and heart tissue, and supporting the stress response.
Insomnia and difficulty sleeping through the night are among the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Several studies have found magnesium to be effective in treating insomnia and improving sleep (3, 4, 5).
Magnesium helps to support sleep in several different ways. It promotes deep sleep by increasing the availability of the GABA, a neurotransmitter that stimulates relaxation and restorative sleep (6). GABA also helps sleep by calming anxiety and balancing stress hormones (7). Studies have found that supplementing with magnesium may also help decrease mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression (8,9). Magnesium has also been found to improve insomnia related to restless leg syndrome (10).
Many people, especially women, are likely to have suboptimal levels of magnesium. I usually recommend increasing magnesium-rich foods daily and supplementing if you have sleep issues and/or anxiety.
The best food sources of magnesium are:
Dark leafy greens
Seeds and nuts - almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds
Legumes - black beans, peanuts, edamame, kidney beans
Unprocessed whole grains
When supplementing with magnesium I usually recommend chelated forms like magnesium glycinate, which are better tolerated and cause less digestive issues. Always make sure you are using a high quality supplement, my favorite is Pure Encapsulations magnesium gyclinate. I usually recommend starting with a smaller dose of 100 mg 1 - 2 hours before bed and increasing gradually up to 350 mg as needed.
04 - EAT CARBS AT NIGHT
Studies have shown that eating carbohydrates a few hours before bed can make it easier to fall asleep (11, 12, 13).
Carbohydrates at night support healthy sleep by balancing the hormones involved in your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our body’s biological clock that regulates the timing of our sleep/wake cycle, among other functions.
There are two key hormones involved in our circadian rhythm, cortisol and melatonin. These hormones are released or suppressed in response to light and darkness. Cortisol is released in response to light and helps us feel awake and alert during the daytime. Melatonin is released in response to darkness and helps us feel tired and sleep throughout the night. Having a normal circadian rhythm is essential for everyone to get a good night’s sleep.
Carbohydrates helps to regulate the circadian rhythm by supporting the production of melatonin. Melatonin is actually synthesized from serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is also involved in regulating your mood. Tryptophan is an amino acid that serves as the building blocks to form serotonin. Carbohydrates increase the amount of tryptophan available in the brain to support the synthesis of serotonin and ultimately melatonin. Carbohydrates also suppress the production of cortisol, letting melatonin do it’s job and knock you out for the night.
Got a question about nutrition and sleep? I’d love to hear from you! Leave questions or comments below.
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Hey! I’m Tamar…