Fun Facts About Food And Sleep

Fun Facts About Food And Sleep

Sleep is one of those things that we just can’t do without.  In that sense, it is like food.  If you are hungry, even Brussels sprouts can start looking good.  If you are sleep deprived, you will be craving a nap or nodding off at odd times. You can also get irritable, less efficient, and more apt to eat high calorie comfort foods or fast food.

When you sleep, it gives your body a chance to balance out your hunger and satiety hormones.  Lack of sleep can lead to poor eating, which can become a vicious cycle. 

And yet, the results are in…lots of people, maybe even one third of the world population, don’t get enough sleep.  As you probably know, the recommended dose is 7-8 hours every night. 

Lack of sleep can lead to auto accidents, industrial accidents, and probably many other slip-ups, misrepresentations, burn-outs, and general grumpiness.  

Other effects are not so hot either.  Chronic lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia, and other diseases because lack of sleep causes chronic inflammation.

Enough of that.  These are not exactly “fun facts.”  But, you get the point.  Sleep is important. 

Sleep and Your Gut

What do people do about it?  A lot of times, nothing.  They just keep going.  OR, there are some sleep aids like Ambien or melatonin that can help.  Ambien is not recommended for regular use and melatonin can be variable in its effects.

Here’s the fun part.  There are plenty of “substances” that can help you sleep better.  I am not talking about alcohol or drugs.  As it turns out, the substances  are found in food. 

The thing about food is that it invariably ends up in your gut.  You may have noticed that guts and their microbes have been getting a lot of press lately.

They are even calling it your “second brain.”  There are actually around 100 million neurons there, even more than in the spinal cord or the nervous system that runs your body, called the peripheral nervous system. 

In addition, your gut has more than 95% of your body’s serotonin.  The serotonin in your brain gets most of the attention for making you feel good, calm, and together.  But, it’s really coming from your gut. 

Which brings us to some of the other key “substances” that are great for a good night’s sleep.  Assuming, that is, that your gut bacteria are healthy and active. 

Things that can throw off your gut bacteria are toxins and processed foods.  Again, this can lead to a vicious cycle.  Your gut bacteria are off their game, so you don’t sleep well, and then you eat more junk food. And so it goes.

On the other hand, studies have found that people who consume the most fiber sleep the best.  Complex carbohydrates like whole grains give your serotonin a boost and lowers the stress hormone, cortisol. 

The Big Three

In addition, there are many foods that help out with sleep. To give you a taste, I am going to highlight three of the substances that are often linked to good sleep and where you can find them in foods. 

Melatonin

This is a star when it comes to helping you sleep. Melatonin is also an amazing anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and anti-cancer hormone.  And, it turns out that there is a ton more melatonin produced in your gut than is produced in your brain.

Often people turn to supplements of melatonin, but science is still working out what dose and what source is the most effective.  However, it can be found in abundance in a variety of foods. 

Ready? Here’s the short list:  Eggs, fish, nuts, mushrooms, wheat, barley, oats, cherries, strawberries, grapes (including wine), tomatoes, peppers, and olive oil. 

Who knew?  It may be easy to bypass this information and just try out a pill, but the food thing is definitely worth considering.

Magnesium

This is a mineral that is often mentioned in conjunction with getting calm and sleeping better.  It does a lot more than that.  It helps to balance blood sugar, blood pressure, relax tense muscles (it is the secret ingredient in Epsom salts), and reduce pain.  Further, it apparently runs over 300 enzyme reactions in your body and is found everywhere in our tissues, especially bones, muscles, and brain.

If you don’t have enough of this magical stuff, you can have trouble sleeping. 

You can take this as a supplement, but often it is recommended to rub it on your skin, where it is readily absorbed  (back to the Epsom salt thing).  This is also a good idea because some supplements are not made well, and dosage is also an issue.  I can personally attest to the fact that too much can wreak havoc in your gut. 

A safe way to get more magnesium is in food.  Here we go:  nuts, seeds, spinach, plant-based milks, beans, dark chocolate, avocado, potatoes, whole grains, tofu, bananas, and cauliflower. 

Tryptophan

Here is a shout-out to tryptophan because it has famously been attached to the drowsiness that we experience after eating a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving. 

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in proteins like turkey, but it is also found in other foods.  Tryptophan is cool because it is a precursor to serotonin  and melatonin. Little wonder that it helps with sleep. 

Check out these foods for tryptophan:  leafy greens, sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, peas, and some cereals that are fortified with it.  Other foods:  cheese, chicken, fish, milk, peanuts, and egg whites. 

In fact, turkey is not a huge source of tryptophan.  There is actually more of it in chicken.  You may have encountered some articles debunking the Thanksgiving turkey drowsiness myth, which are correct.

The bottom line:  At the risk of being repetitive (but why not?) it’s been noted in the people who research this sort of thing that the Mediterranean style of eating is the winner when it comes to eating for sleep.  And, just about everything else.  There it is again!  Must be something to it! 

Yours for a healthy chow down,
Kristen

© 2024 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Anton_Herrington | iStock

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