3 Nutritional Considerations for Better Sleep

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Ah sleep. The almost cliche habit that everyone knows they need but can’t seem to get enough of. We all know we need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep for best function, but many of us may struggle to get asleep, stay asleep or get good quality sleep to give our best throughout the day.

While you may not think that your nutrition is linked to your sleep habits (and vice versa), it really can play a role in your ability to get good rest and recover to do it all again tomorrow. Let’s walk through a couple of ways that you can affect your sleep positively.

Control Blood Sugar During the Day

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The quality and combination of foods can have a positive impact on your blood sugar regulation and therefore your sleep. Blood sugar is the readily available source of energy for all cells that is carried throughout the body constantly and controlled within a very tight range for the healthy individual. When you eat, blood sugar will increase, dependent on the type and amount of food that you consume. If blood sugar goes up quickly, like when you consume straight sugar, it can come down just as quickly and drop below the threshold of the preferred range for the body. When blood sugar is too low, cortisol is released (1).

If this is repeated throughout the day and on a consistent daily basis, this can lead to alteration of the response of many hormones including growth hormone and cortisol (2), which over time can lead to sleep disruptions (3). This occurs due to a change in the body’s response to the normal hormone fluctuations during the sleep process, making that individual more susceptible to arouse earlier and easier, with a decreased ability to get back to sleep.

So in order to normalize the body’s response to these hormones, balancing blood sugar responses during the day can be useful. A combination of quality protein, plentiful fiber, and healthful fats can slow the blood sugar response and eventual decline, which allows the individual to respond better to the hunger signal. In other words, when you eat a balanced meal, your blood sugar will slowly come down, allowing you time to make a better decision about what to eat at the next meal. Repeat this over several meals, and multiple days and the neuroendocrine system will respond better at night to increase your amount of Zzzzs. As always, consistency is key in this area and one meal/food is not going to have a negative impact.

Correct Nutrient Deficiencies

There are multiple studies that are now showing that having a deficiency of Vitamin D (4) can lead to sleep issues. Low serum vitamin D levels (<25 ng/mL) were associated with poor sleep quality, low sleep duration and sleepiness in several studies. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is obtained primarily from exposure to the sun. There are very few foods that contain Vitamin D and even then they have low amounts of it for absorption.

The best thing you can do is increase your light exposure by getting sunlight as soon as possible in the morning and as much as possible throughout the day. If sunlight is not obtainable – say it is the middle of winter or you work inside most of the day, supplementation is recommended. Supplements in oil form are the best absorbed and I personally use drops for myself and my family.

Vitamin B6 may be associated with insomnia as well. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor in the production of serotonin and melatonin. In general, a lower intake of vitamins and protein has been associated with insomnia, with significant difference in the intake of B12, iron and carbohydrates between normal sleepers and insomniacs (5).

Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for over 300 different functions in the body. Magnesium deficiency can increase oxidative stress and inflammation and therefore lead to poor sleep quality. Some studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium can improve sleep quality (6, 7), among other factors. Magnesium may also help reduce restless leg syndrome (8), which can also lead to wakefulness at night. Anecdotally, I regularly take a magnesium supplement at night to help mitigate my fibromyalgia and find it does help with the quality of my sleep.

Get Regular Movement

Practicing Pilates – one of my favorite exercises

It may not be all about food, but getting regular movement can greatly improve sleep quality. Whether it be a 30 minute walk (do it outside and get Vitamin D too!), an hour long bike ride, 20 minutes of yoga or 10 minutes of dancing, movement improves all systems of the body. Movement can impact your sleep regulation, your vitamin utilization, and hormone production, so without it, what you eat to improve your health will have less of a positive impact.

Do what you enjoy and are able to do for movement. If your why is not strong in this area, it will not be a habit that you will be able to sustain. If you don’t enjoy running, but like dancing, then go for a night out, break out in your living room or employ a video game like Just Dance for extra fun!

Getting better sleep is not something that will happen overnight, but having some strategies to try and habits to adjust may help in the long run. As always, what you repeatedly do will affect how your body functions in the long run.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you purchase after clicking on the link. I am not paid by the company to promote these products and my opinions are my own.

Published by Megan Salazar, RDN CSSD

Megan Salazar is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with over 8 years experience with coaching individuals towards more healthful lives. She loves sharing the potential greatness that individuals can achieve through food, movement and lifestyle. When she's not working with individuals or learning more, she is at home with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 dogs. She loves cooking, baking, and exercising.

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