Did you know there are specific foods that help you sleep? There are also foods that can give you the energy you need for a productive day. For those who can’t sleep on a consistent basis, the search for relief can seem endless. You can improve your sleep environment, upgrade your mattress, utilize the latest sleep products, yet you may be left right where you started….looking for answers on how to sleep better. A healthy diet has plenty of well-known benefits:
Weight Management: Lets state the obvious, a healthy diet will help you maintain or cut excess body weight. Take a look at all of the magazines the next time you’re checking out at the grocery store, or search the internet for some diet tips. An entire industry has been created on the need for people to follow healthy diet plans for proper weight management. Whether it’s a blog, TV program or YouTube Channel, you’ll be able to find a resource that works for you.
Productivity: A Study from some of the brilliant Health Professionals at Brigham Young University found that Employees who rarely ate fruits, vegetables, and other low-fat foods at work were 93% more likely to have a higher loss in productivity. This data was collected from 19,803 employees from 3 large, geographically dispersed companies. Bottom line is that we currently live in a world where obesity, diabetes, and overall poorer health are sky-rocketing. It’s no wonder that companies are looking at employee health as a way to improve performance.
Prevents Disease: Heart Disease, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, and even cancer have been linked to poor eating habits. In fact, the World Health Organization states that as much as 30% of all cancer cases can be linked to poor dietary habits putting it only second to tobacco use. Diets high in fat target the colon, uterus, and prostate. Lack of physical activity and being overweight are high risk for breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, and uterus cancers.
Sleep and Diet
So how does consuming a healthy diet factor into better sleep? Well, a lot of ways really. Your sleep quality isn’t just dictated by a consistent bedtime routine. It’s established throughout the day by maximizing your peak performance hours while consuming a healthy diet for all of your meals. It’s extremely important that we separate our discussion into two parts. First, we will focus on the benefits of maximizing our meal cycles in peak activity hours. Second, we will look at what types of foods can give us energy for our first 2 meals, and what foods consumed at dinner will lay the foundation for a good nights sleep.
Eating Within Your Peak Activity Hours: Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that is dictated by things like light and darkness in your environment. Our internal circadian biological clocks regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. In the periods of wakefulness, your body also has a time cycle of peak activity where you can synchronize all of your metabolic, cardiovascular, and behavioral rhythms giving you an edge in your daily life. It is in this 8-hour peak activity period where your intake of food is best utilized by your body.
A study performed at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, and published in the journal Cell Metabolism, looked at the difference between what you ate and when you ate it. A group of mice was given access to a healthy diet as well as a diet high in fats. One group was only given access to the food in the 8 hour period of their peak activity, while the other was given access to the food all day. The results were not surprising. Regardless of the food given, the mice that were allowed to have access to the food all day developed obesity, diabetes, and altered sleep/wake rhythms. The mice who were only given access to the food during their peak 8-hour activity period lost body weight had normal glucose levels and showed normal sleep cycles!!
So while what you eat is critical, when you eat it is likely just as important. A person’s peak performance hours are generally an 8-hour period that runs from 9 am to 5 pm every day. An ideal diet plan would be fitting your 3 daily meals into that 8-hour period while avoiding any snacks before bed time. If you do find yourself having trouble staying away from snacks after dinner, it’s likely because you haven’t eaten the amount of nutrition and calories needed to get you through the day. It’s also likely that the snacks you are eating right before bed aren’t all that nutritious. Dr. Roxanne B. Sokul from the Cleveland Clinic recommends leaving the house with at least one piece of fruit and either a handful of nuts or a cheese stick to eat in between your meals if you get hungry. Filling these hunger periods with good foods prevents you from being overly hungry, and allows you to be completely satisfied after dinner.
Foods That Can Give You Energy
Let’s look at what some of the foods are better suited for being consumed for breakfast and lunch. Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats in food provide calories to fuel and energize your body. An ideal diet mix for breakfast and lunch will contain smaller amounts of fats, along with proteins and complex carbohydrates.
Water: We know, we know….water is not technically a food, but we’re putting it at the top of the list as the consumption of at least 8 glasses of water a day is vital to your overall health and energy. While water itself can be considered a nutrient, it also carries nutrients and oxygen to your body’s cells maintaining their health and integrity. When you first wake up in the morning you are also likely dehydrated. Feeling tired is one of the first indicators of dehydration and drinking water can eliminate that groggy feeling. Water also helps dissolve fats and soluble fiber allowing us to better digest our meals.
Almonds: Almonds have been prized and utilized in diets since ancient times. Almonds contain monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin E, Riboflavin, Manganese, Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium. These nutrient-rich nuggets are perfect for snacking in-between meals as they are high in calories, and can make you feel full in lower doses. Studies even show that regular nut consumption is unlikely to contribute to obesity, and may even help weight loss.
Whole Oats: Whole Oats, like Oatmeal and Whole Grain Cereals, are chalk full of B Vitamins. So much so, that just a half a cup of oats provides enough punch to keep you energized for hours. While carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the years, they are the fuel for your body when they are broken down into glucose to keep your cells running. It’s really all about the type of carbohydrates you consume. Whole grains give you energy for longer time periods as they take longer to digest. Processed Carbohydrates in items like white flour or white sugar will give you a brief boost of energy that will quickly disappear.
Yogurt: Interested in losing weight, feeling more satisfied after eating, and getting a boost of energy? Well, then yogurt is a food that can fill all of those needs. Yogurt is highly nutritious and is an excellent source of protein, calcium, potassium, and Vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). Due to yogurts liquid-like consistency, all the nutrients present are quickly utilized during digestion. This allows for an immediate boost of energy that won’t fade quickly due to high protein. For an even bigger boost, many people are switching to Greek Yogurt. Greek Yogurt can have twice as much protein as regular yogurt while also offering lower sodium content.
Salmon: Chronic Fatigue is associated with elevated markers of inflammation. Luckily, your body uses Omega-3 fats found in salmon to make anti-inflammatory compounds. Omega-3 rich foods have also shown to increase the efficiency of various brain functions, including improved memory allowing you to be more productive at work. Salmon also provides high levels of protein with 2 grams of essential fatty acids per 4-ounce serving. The Protein in salmon will keep your body running while also repairing muscle, bones, ligaments, and tendons after a good work out. Salmon also contains a day’s worth of vitamin-D that can help combat the 1/4 of Americans who suffer from low levels of vitamin-D.
Spinach: Of course Popeye was right! Spinach and other leafy greens have been found to boost muscles and increase energy levels. Up until recently, it was always thought that the iron content in spinach made it a power food. However, a recent study by Dr. Eddie Weitzberg of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that it may be the nitrates in spinach and other green leafy vegetables which are the true energy-boosting ingredient. In the study, patients were given nitrate supplements equivalent to the amount in a plate of spinach every 3 hours. Participants pedaled strenuously on a stationary bike at the beginning of the experiment and at the end. After 3 days, the difference in energy intake was between 3-5%.
Sweet Potato: An extremely versatile option that even children love. Mashed, Baked, or Lightly fried, a sweet potato can be a filling, healthy can be paired with almost any meal and help stave off mid-day fatigue. The sweet potato is an excellent source of potassium, provitamin A, vitamin B9 (Folacin), and Complex Carbohydrates. Complex Carbohydrates take longer to be digested and help supply the body with energy over longer periods of time. Complex Carbohydrates also break down into glycogen that is stored in the liver or muscles to be used as fuel. In comparison, simple carbohydrates quickly break down into glucose that can result in fat stores if they remain unused.
Shrimp: Shrimp are extremely protein-rich, in fact, they are primarily made of protein. Three ounces of shrimp provide about 20 grams of protein which is almost equivalent to a 3-ounce chicken breast. The downside of shrimp is that a standard 6-ounce serving by itself will likely not provide you with enough energy for a meal. There’s just barely any fat. Using some light butter, coconut milk or olive oil should offer a nice combination of protein and healthy fat. While shrimp are high in dietary cholesterol (125 mg in 3 ounces), it should be noted that dietary cholesterol from animal-based foods does not have the same impact on blood cholesterol as saturated fat and man-made trans fat.
Beans: Beans (Legumes) are a wonderful, cheap, and easy addition to any meal that will not only energize you but also keep you feeling full. The fiber in beans will help stabilize blood sugar in the body, which can prevent dips in energy. Beans are also very high in protein and can be more easily digested in comparison to red meat. This easier digestion will give you more immediate energy impact while also allowing your body to absorb essential nutrients. Beans contain Magnesium that helps for better blood circulation eliminating muscle fatigue, as well as iron which eases fatigue. Beans can be sprinkled on salads, ground into parties for sandwiches, or used in healthy soups.
Carrots: Whether in its raw form or from its juice, carrots are truly an amazing food. Carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Beta-Carotene can be converted into Vitamin-A by the body which makes them a wonderful source of Vitamin-A. Carrots are also a very good source of Calcium, Phosphorous, and Magnesium. Magnesium is essential for the production of energy from carbohydrates, as well as mental development. The Vitamin-E in carrots will promote better blood flow and blood circulation throughout all parts of the body.
Foods That Help You Sleep
There is a certain amino acid needed for your body’s general growth and development called Tryptophan. Tryptophan also creates serotonin in the body that can produce healthy sleep and improved mood. While our first thought of a food containing high levels of tryptophan is turkey, the truth is that there are plenty of other foods out there that contain more tryptophan than turkey but do not cause drowsiness. There are also some foods that naturally increase and trigger your production of melatonin which helps regulate sleep.
Pineapple: It’s been found that tropical fruits can contribute to dietary melatonin. A study had 30 patients consume 6 different types of tropical fruits individually. While all of the tropical fruits showed a moderate increase in melatonin content, pineapples showed a 266% increase in aMT6-s (a marker of circulating melatonin in the body). Pineapples also offer the benefits of potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folate.
Chicken: When everyone thinks of a bird that makes you tired after eating it, our minds always race to turkey. While turkey is a fantastic source of lean protein with high tryptophan content, you would be surprised to learn that chicken is actually higher on the tryptophan scale. Chicken is also a protein that is low in fat, so it’s a perfect staple to build your dinner around. Chicken is rich in phosphorous which supports your teeth and bones, as well as your kidneys, liver, and central nervous system.
Fish: Halibut, Salmon, Trout, and Snapper top out the list for highest levels of tryptophan. Fish, in general, are very good for you. They contain many nutrients like protein, iodine, Omega-3 and are one of the leading providers of fat-soluble Vitamin D. Today we are a population that is dealing with a significant vitamin D deficiency, and this is a direct cause of fatigue, depression, weight gain, and other factors.
Shellfish: Lobsters, Octopus, Clams, Shrimp, Scallops, and Oysters are all chalk full of tryptophan. Shellfish are a good source of protein without the extra fat. Of that fat, it does contain, very little of it is saturated fat. Shellfish are a good source of Omega-3 Fatty acids that can help boost brain activity and fight off depression. They also supply minerals like zinc, copper, iron, and magnesium. Best of all is shellfish are extremely versatile in cooking. You can simply steam them, boil them, and use them in any type of soup or salad.
Tomatoes: Melatonin is present in edible plants, and tomatoes have shown to be one of those. It’s suggested that Mediterranean diets for years have used foods like tomatoes to increase consumption bioactive phytochemical, such as melatonin. These diets over long periods of time have shown to produce a lower incidence of chronic degenerative disorders. Now, a tomato has less melatonin than a sweet or tart cherry, but your chance of consuming more tomatoes in your diet is higher.
Sweet Corn: Naturally high levels of melatonin exist in sweet corn and it can be used in almost unlimited ways as a dinner addition. Whether you’re eating it right off the husk, or grounding it into cornmeal, sweet corn can be a wonderful, healthy addition to your diet. Sweet corn is one of the finest sources of dietary fiber and is gluten free so that it can be a staple for those with celiac disease. Corn is also a high-glycemic-index (GI) food which has shown to increase tryptophan relative to other acids in the body.
Dairy: Dairy provides us with out highest intake of Calcium. This is important if you can’t sleep as Calcium us directly related to our sleep cycles. In one study, researchers found that calcium levels in the body are higher during some of the deepest levels of sleep such as REM phase. The study concluded that disturbances in sleep, especially the absence of REM deep sleep or disturbed REM sleep, are related to a calcium deficiency. So whether you utilize milk, or cheese, having a dairy portion with your dinner and throughout the day will help improve your sleep.
Rice: Scientists have found that consuming large portions of rice can actually help sleep whereas pasta and noodles can actually hinder your sleep. Rice is high on the glycemic index (GI) which has been associated with improved sleep. Foods with High GI increased the amount of tryptophan being transported into the brain compared with other amino acids. It is then converted into serotonin, and then melatonin. Of the different varieties of rice, Jasmine rice as shown to have a very high GI level.
Our diets are constantly changing to meet our needs, and its good to know that when you can’t sleep there are plenty of healthy foods to help you sleep and give you energy. Be creative, have fun with your food, and enjoy a healthy life.