In my opinion, the most important thing in promoting sleep for most people is trying to keep stress hormones down, which is a huge factor that prevents many people from getting to sleep and staying asleep. We already have so many environmental or lifestyle factors working against us when it comes to circadian and cortisol rhythms, such as bright and artificial light at night, not enough natural light during the day, exercising too close to bedtime, and simply getting in bed too late. This is super common for most people. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with all of these issues at some point in my life.
Anyway, these are probably the first things you need to address if you’re not sleeping well at night, since they can make a big difference in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. But did you know that nutrition can affect your sleep as well? Read on to learn how your diet can help you sleep better!
1. Protein At Breakfast, Carbs at Dinner
My first tip for improving sleep using your diet is concentrating your protein in the morning and carbohydrates at night, which is pretty much the opposite of the way most people eat. The typical American diet is a big bowl of carbs in the morning, either cereal, oatmeal, or a bread product, and then a massive plate of meat at night. If you’re trying to promote sleep, you should try eating more of your protein in the morning and more of your carbohydrates at night. That might mean eating some meat or fish at breakfast and reducing your protein portion size at night. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but I’m sure many of you can remember times where you’ve eaten a huge amount of protein before bed and tossed and turned all night. (I know I’ve been there before!)
Eating more carbohydrates before bed can help prevent a blood sugar drop overnight, which will ramp up stress hormones like cortisol and can even wake some people up if it’s extreme enough. Also, a recent controlled trial showed that a carbohydrate-based high-glycemic-index meal resulted in a significant shortening of sleep onset in healthy sleepers compared with a low-GI meal, and was most effective when consumed 4 hours before bedtime.
Protein, on the other hand, requires a lot of energy to digest and can almost act as a stimulant, which is great for the morning but not so great in the evening. You don’t want cortisol secretion being stimulated right before bed, and there’s some evidence that carbohydrate intake can actually reduce cortisol, especially in stressed people. This recommendation even goes for people on a very low carbohydrate diet – they should really do their best to concentrate their carbohydrates in the evening.
2. Don’t Eat Too Much/Too Late.
It’s important to try to not eat too much at night or eat too late. Studies show that eating suppresses melatonin, which is our primary sleep hormone. There’s also data that suggests that food intake during the nocturnal period is correlated with negative effects on the sleep quality of healthy individuals. So ideally you should try to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed, if not more. That means if you’re getting in bed at 10PM, you want to finish your last meal by 8PM.
3. Avoid Caffeine After Noon
Another issue that affects sleep is drinking too much coffee or having caffeinated beverages too close to bedtime. The average half-life of caffeine is 5 hours, which means that you still have three-quarters of the first dose of caffeine rolling around in your system 10 hours after you drink it. And some people are especially caffeine sensitive, meaning it can linger even longer. So if you’re going to drink coffee, make sure you do it before noon and try to limit to one or two cups. If you’re really struggling with sleep, you might try cutting out caffeine altogether. That includes things like chocolate, which is a stimulant and can mess up your sleep if you eat it too close to bedtime. I can vouch for that myself… as much as I love chocolate, if I eat it before bed I have a horrible time falling asleep.
4. Take Your Vitamin D Earlier
There’s some anecdotal evidence that taking vitamin D supplements in the morning can help promote sleep as compared to taking them in the evening. I think this would go for food based vitamin D as well, such as cod liver oil. I’m not sure if there’s any research to support this theory, but as a concept it makes sense, since your body would only be producing vitamin D during daylight hours. We don’t necessarily know all the roles the vitamin D hormone plays, and one of those might be regulating our circadian rhythm. Since I’ve seen other people recommending this, I’ll go ahead and suggest it as a way for people to improve their sleep. If you’re taking vitamin D containing supplements, take them in the morning rather than at night.
5. Bone Broth Before Bed
One more dietary recommendation I’ll make is to consume either bone broth or gelatin in the evening to promote sleep. The glycine in gelatin can actually help improve sleep ease and quality, particularly in people with insomnia. There’s a good study that we’ll link to that explains how glycine promotes the onset of sleep. And as we know, our diets are relatively deficient in glycine unless we’re eating a lot of animal skin, meat off the bone, and bone broths. So mixing in a few teaspoons of gelatin powder into hot water or broth before bed may help promote sleep. Either way, it’s a good habit to get into, since glycine is an important amino acid to help balance out all the methionine we get from muscle meats.
There are probably many other ways to promote sleep using nutrition, but those are the big hitters that I think most people can find a way to include in their routine. Getting good quality sleep is something I personally struggle with for a variety of reasons, such as inadequate natural light during the day, drinking too much coffee at inappropriate times, eating too much protein at night, and exercising too late.
I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have the same sleep issues as I do, so we can all work on them together! Tell me, are there any nutritional techniques you use to help you sleep better?