Many people have trouble going to sleep at a reasonable hour, wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, or consistently wake up too early. If you’re a mom, all of the above probably applies. Making sleep a priority is an important step to getting more sleep but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll get a restful eight hours. However, there are some things we can all do, especially eat, to get better sleep.
Sleep is a hormone dependent process
Balancing your stress levels during the daytime can help. With all the variables in our lives that can affect proper hormone balance (foods, toxins, artificial light, etc) it makes sense that many people struggle with sleep. This is also why times when hormones change often have a negative effect on sleep (menopause, puberty, pregnancy. Proper sleep hormone production (melatonin) depends on proper hormone function during waking hours (serotonin and others). As the endocrine system is a complete system, hormone imbalances (PCOS, Endometriosis) can often lead to poor sleep and vice versa. Stress hormones can have a tremendous impact on the sleep cycle as well: lack of sleep elevates stress hormones, and stress hormones can cause sleep problems. So reduce stress, especially from food, through which you have three choices a day.
Try eating more carbs at dinner (the good kind!)
Melatonin is synthesized in the brain by the pineal gland, along with serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is also involved in sleep regulation. An important raw material for this synthesis is the amino acid tryptophan. Carbohydrates increase the amount of tryptophan available to the pineal gland. Studies have shown that eating a carb-rich meal a few hours before bed can shorten the time it takes to get to sleep. If you have insomnia, particularly if you’re on a low-carb diet, adding some carbs at dinner could be an easy and effective way to improve your sleep. Sweet potato is the Paleo dream food!
2. Avoid high protein meals before bed
On the other hand, high-protein meals can decrease the availability of tryptophan because other amino acids compete for transportation across the blood-brain barrier and into the pineal gland. However, the glycine-rich proteins found in skin and gelatinous cuts of meat don’t have this effect, and studies have shown that gelatin consumption before bedtime (say, a mug of bone broth) can improve sleep quality.
3. Try to relax your digestive system
The success of our digestive system depends on food being able to pass through the tubes unrestricted. Chronic abdominal tension reduces our ability to digest, assimilate and metabolize our food. Even though the digestive processes of our stomach and intestines are out of our conscious control, we can deliberately relax the abdomen to help free up the flow. Try these tips to help relax:
- Relax before and after eating. Before eating, sit and breathe deeply to prime your body for digestion. Deep breathing will down regulate the nervous system before, during, and after eating. And it’s easier to feel satisfaction before getting too full. Many of us eat on the run, but even if just for one meal day, chill for at least 20 minutes after to rest and digest.
- Eat without distraction. Stimulus from our environment can trigger fight or flight reactions: checking email, being on the phone, checking your Facebook newsfeed. Focus on your food. Chew thoroughly to tire your jaw muscles. Realign your head from forward head position for ease of swallowing. Think about all the flavors of your meal, put your fork down between bites, and if you’re eating at your desk and unable to get even 10min of sunshine in a nearby park, sit cross-legged on the floor away from distractions and focus on your meal. Better still, eat at the family table and chat with friends and family to enjoy your meal to it’s fullest.
- Teach your belly muscles to relax. Constant stress reinforces abdominal muscle contraction. Therefore, it might feel unfamiliar to relax the abdomen. The muscles need to relearn the sensation. Try belly breathing, holding onto your belly as you breath in and it comes out, then sigh the breath out as your belly deflates in.
- Eat around or before 7pm and give your body some time to digest before you then ask it to detox and repair everything while you sleep
- Stop drinking at least 1.5-2 hours before sleeping (peeing and pooing are part of digestion too)
4. Eating to sleep is the secret ingredient to thrive
Just as foods can impact health in other areas, foods can contribute to good or bad sleep. To help improve your chances of quality sleep, there are the best foods to consume, of course on top of making sure you get the best of a whole food diet.
Sleep is a hormone dependent process. Focus on creating healthy hormones through the food you eat, namely healthy fats, help your gall bladder digest those fats and your liver detox excess used and unused hormones efficiently.
- Hormones are made of a profile of fats. Eat a profile of (healthy) fats such as coconut oil, organic and pasture raised meats, eggs, avocado and butter all help provide your body with the necessary building blocks to manufacture sleep hormones.
- Help the gall bladder digest fats by making sure you eating fresh beets daily
- And help heal your liver and it’s work removing hormones from our system by including lemons, spinach, apples, carrots, garlic and broccoli
- Include high antioxidant foods also important for hormone production and the removal of toxins that can impede sleep. Focus on vegetables, high nutrient fruits, and herbal or green teas (green tea early in the day only). When you think antioxidants, think blueberries, colorful fruits and veggies. Eat the rainbow (just not a Skittles rainbow!)
- Your evening meal should include proteins, vegetables and healthy fats. Eating enough of each at this meal will help prepare the body to enter the sleep cycle: not too much protein, not too little carbs, just the right amount of fats. Each helps the other digest.
- Sugars: sugar, especially at night, can cause a blood sugar spike and crash that will lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep. Many people crave sugar (chocolate, anyone?) in the evening, which is a sign of an underlying nutrient deficiency to begin with but eating sugar late at night can cause problems falling asleep or lead to waking in the middle of the night when blood sugar levels drop.
- Grains: the negative effect grains can have on health are becoming more widely known, and if you have an intolerance to grains, this can cause physical stress in your body, which alters the hormone cycle and can impede sleep.
- Vegetable oils– no one should ever eat these anyway, but as artificial fats can cause problems in new skin formation (like skin cancer) they can cause problems in the hormone cycle, as hormones need (saturated) fats for production and giving the body the wrong building blocks for hormones can wreak havoc with hormone production.
Be kind to yourself, keep an eye on what you’re eating and doing especially in the evening and be careful not to sabotage your own sleep.