Foods that promote quality sleep to influence your mental health

Did you know the foods you eat have the potential to help or harm your sleep quality? This is extremely important, as sleep quality is a contributing factor to our mental health. Poor sleep and sleep deprivation is linked to mood disorders and mental health problems including depression and anxiety. Research highlights sleep problems may raise your risk and contribute to the development of psychological disorders. Unfortunately, it’s a double-whammy, as those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.  I’m sure we can all agree, when we haven’t had a restful night’s sleep, we’re more likely to snap throughout the day. Supporting a good night’s sleep nurtures both mental and emotional resilience whereas chronic sleep issues promote negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Therefore, it’s important to support your sleep-wake cycle through your overall diet to set yourself up as best you can for a better night’s sleep.

When it comes to supporting sleep through your diet, it’s important to note that your overall diet, the foods you eat the majority of the time will increase/decrease sleep quality. For example, if you eat a generally healthy diet focusing on wholefoods (fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes & lean meats) you’re more likely to support a healthy sleep-wake cycle. If you eat a highly processed, fast food diet, you’re more likely to experience poor sleep. However, there are specific foods to eat and avoid, in order to support your sleep-wake cycle. Try adding some of these recommendations into your weekly diet for the next few months to reap the sleep inducing effects.

An important addition to your diet is tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning the body doesn’t produce it and we’re required to consume it through food sources. Tryptophan converts into a molecule called 5-HTP, which is used to make both serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin influences sleep, cognition and mood. Once serotonin has been produced from tryptophan in the body it can be converted into another important molecule – melatonin. Melatonin is primarily involved in your sleep-wake cycle. As it’s extremely difficult to eat foods high in melatonin and serotonin, it’s important to consume foods containing tryptophan, their precursor for production.

High tryptophan foods include chicken, turkey, red meat, fish, legumes, milk, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, eggs, bananas, grains (wheat, barely, rice, corn, oats) and more. We’ve all heard of the old wise tale our mums used to tell us, “Have a glass of milk before bed”. Now you know why, it contains tryptophan, which converts to serotonin and melatonin and impacts your sleep-wake cycle. There’s a fun fact for your next family BBQ, sure to wow the crowd.

As well as consuming tryptophan-rich foods, there are some additional recommendations below to support your sleep quality.  

  • Enjoy a lighter meal/snack prior to bedtime, as a heavy meal will load your digestive system, making you uncomfortable and possibly affect your ability to fall asleep. If you’re going to indulge in a heavy meal, try eating at least 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Stimulants like caffeine can disrupt sleep quality as it increases adrenaline production. If you’re going to drink coffee make sure it’s at least 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption as it throws off your sleep-wake cycle. Some people mention it helps them fall asleep, however, this is only initially as it depresses the nervous system. These effects wear off fast and you will often wake without entering a deeper much needed phase of your sleep cycle.
  • Avoid spicy foods prior to bed, as this is a notorious culprit of heartburn, indigestion and reflux. Additionally, when you’re lying down the acid creeps into your oesophagus burning the sensitive lining.
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