Conquering insomnia by paying attention to diet

One often overlooked approach to conquering insomnia is to pay more attention to the specific foods we ingest, especially right before bedtime. There is strong evidence suggesting that diet has a huge impact on our ability to fall and stay asleep.

According to the president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Nathaniel Watson, the impact of diet on sleep quality is significant. Dr. Watson is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying “… diet and sleep are interwoven in the fabric of a healthy lifestyle.”

Dr. Watson, confirming results of a small study conducted by Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition author Marie-Pierre St-Onge emphasized that for a good night’s sleep, it is important to eat a nutritious diet and get enough exercise.

This might not be so surprising to many people, especially insomniacs, as it is common knowledge by now that drinking caffeinated beverages and eating a lot of sugar do impact the quality of sleep.

However, the study indicated that there are some other foods that also impact the quality of sleep; foods high in fat, low in fiber and high in sugar have the potential to interrupt deep sleep, causing wakefulness during the night. Eliminating or even just reducing these foods in the diet, especially immediately before bed time, and conversely, eating foods low in fat, high in fiber and low in sugar, can actually improve sleep patterns, helping to get a good night’s sleep. Foods such as beans and other legumes, whole grains such as brown rice, fruits, leafy green vegetables (such as kale and spinach), and some nuts and seeds (such as almonds, and flaxseed, which must be ground to be well digested) are high in fiber and mostly low in fat. Low fiber, high fat foods include most meats (even lean meats have less fiber than beans and vegetables), cheeses, butter-filled desserts and most processed foods.

Foods high in processed sugar, such as candy bars, cakes and cookies, can negatively impact sleep, especially if eaten too close to bedtime. These foods offer no nourishment and can even deplete the body of minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. When the body is depleted, sleep quality can be effected.

There is also some evidence, according to the article “Hibernation Diet Links Sleep and Obesity”, however, that honey, a natural sweetener, can actually aid in getting a good night’s sleep by keeping the liver and brain well nourished and reducing stress levels. Sleep quality is improved by reducing stress. Many insomniacs have experienced the opposite, when high stress causes poor sleep. When sleep is not restorative, the following day can be even more stressful, causing us to perhaps eat more comfort foods (which are often high in fat, low in fiber), and continuing the cycle of poor sleep-poor diet-poor sleep, etc.

While the Onge study was very small, only 26 people spending five nights in a controlled environment, the results are significant. If only a few days of eating certain foods can influence sleep patterns so significantly, there is evidence that changing diets to include sleep-healthy foods could improve not only sleep, but the quality of life as well!

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