Sleep Challenge – Week 4: Eat Your Way to a Better Night’s Sleep

panda-1236875Well you knew it was coming, right? We just had to talk nutrition. Our food and drink choices impact our sleep. At a pretty young age we figure this out. Too much candy after dinner? Boing, boing, boing! Too much vodka before Prom? Ouch, ouch, ouch! Turkey at Thanksgiving dinner? Zzzzzzzzzz……..

Some of these traits are unique to us. I can drink caffeine later in the day than my husband; I can have coffee in the school pick-up line while he always stops by Noon. If you have ever nursed two babies, you might notice the food you eat influences their sleep differently. Again, this is why I am SO fond of tracking. Even if you think you are sleeping well, it is important to track the foods which impact a restful, deep, and quality night’s sleep.

Sugar and caffeine are stimulants that can jack us up and keep us from falling asleep or sleeping restfully. We know this, but why? Hormones. Not just lady hormones, but stress hormones like we discussed last week and happy hormones and sleepy hormones. There are also foods that stimulate the hormones that control our mood and sleep/wake cycles. If we go back to Thanksgiving dinner we joke how the chemical tryptophan in turkey makes Uncle Dave fall asleep before halftime in the Redskins/Cowboys game. Tryptophan is found in many protein sources and actually used by the brain to signal the production of serotonin (happy hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone). No you don’t just buy melatonin in pill form, it is a natural hormone your body produces on its own to control sleep/wake cycles and prepare the body for the anti-inflammatory repair that happens when we sleep. SO MANY NECESSARY THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE SLEEP! Protein rich foods – like turkey – contain tryptophan. Calcium aids the use of tryptophan by the brain (think of Grandma giving you a warm glass of protein & calcium rich milk before bed).

How do we make sense of these complicated workings of our brain and eat for better sleep?
•QUALITY. Real food is quality food. Real food comes from a farm, not a box.
•Stick to a ‘right carb’ diet high in fruits and vegetables. A ‘junk carb’ diet is high in sugar, white starch, and alcohol.
•Quality proteins like dark leafy greens, beans, fish, and natural meats combined with good fats and carbohydrates work together to balance your hormones and keep you sleeping sound.
•Add calcium-rich foods like greek yogurt, broccoli, fish, figs, almonds, and my good friends dark leafy greens to your diet to aid the production of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain.
•Eat light at night. You are looking for the ‘good gut feeling’ you get from a small meal or snack of quality food a couple hours before bed.
•Track it! A food & exercise log can be a useful guide for a good night’s rest.

My clients are always surprised by how well they sleep after changing their eating habits. It is typically the first change they notice! Give it a try and within a week, you will be sleeping better and have more energy. If you need guidance, find a Certified Health & Wellness Coach to get you there and hold you accountable.

After four weeks of the sleep challenge, how well are YOU sleeping? We have looked at how our total wellness effects sleep: our lifestyle choices, our attitude, exercise habits and good nutrition.
What has been your top tip to better sleep this month?
I have had a wonderful time on this journey with you and love hearing from you during our challenges.

I wish you health, good sleep, and long, satisfying dreams about dark leafy greens!