Biohacking Your Sleep Part 5: Sleep Nutrition
Diet and Nutrition affect all aspects of our health and play an important role in proper, effective sleep. A healthy diet reduces the risk of many conditions from diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and mental health. Supporting healthy sleep with a healthy diet can improve performance, decrease fatigue, and reach our wellness goals faster.
In fact there is a direct correlation between your dietary choices and meal schedule which impacts sleep quality and duration. We all know that caffeine can delay the initial phase of falling asleep, but the truth is any food intake too close to bedtime can affect your sleep cycle as it forces additional digestive system activity when you should be in rest mode. While no food close to bedtime is the best route, there are some foods that have an even greater impact on your body such as high calorie and high-fat foods that are hard to digest, making it difficult to achieve proper sleep.
When considering our overall wellness, you need to realize that it is all linked which is why we will see a domino effect of repercussions… bad dietary habits lead to bad sleep, and bad sleep provokes overeating, unhealthy food choices, and seeking out quick energy fixes during the day, generally caffeine and sugar. This need to eat isn’t a coincidence, sleep deprivation actually triggers a release of leptin which tells our brain to consume calories. In fact, chronic sleep loss is linked to an increased risk of obesity. This is why providing your body with proper nutrition through your diet by day, eliminates hunger and daytime sleepiness, and sets the path for regenerative sleep.
HOW TO BEST MANAGE DIET FOR REGENERATIVE SLEEP
In my experience with weight management and sleep management, I find that the best outcomes of feeling satisfied and getting quality sleep lies in an intermittent fasting schedule. Fasting is an ancient tradition typically reserved for times of high emotional stress or reflection purposes. But in the modern-day, many studies have demonstrated that a daily fasting schedule may help with obesity, hypertension, inflammation, and reduce the risk of cardiometabolic diseases.
Intermittent fasting restricts calorie intake or the time you can eat to a 6 hour window per day, leaving 18 hours in which you are either sleeping or not eating. The concept does sound scary and many people struggle with the idea, admittedly I am not the expert in fasting but I can speak to my personal positive results by following an intermittent fasting schedule. An expert that I’ve enjoyed following on my intermittent fasting journey has been Dave Asprey. Through him, I have been able to understand the best practices and the psychology of fasting.
Relationship between nocturnal caloric intake and sleep efficiency. Circles represent men and triangles represent women. Linear regression and Pearson's correlation coefficient are shown in each gender best fitting line: men, thinner line; women, thicker line.
The first step was to understand the mental aspect of beginning your own intermittent fasting schedule. As Dave explains, the automated system in our cells fears starvation, so it goes against our own survival instincts to avoid food. However, knowing that this biggest hurdle is a mental block means we can logically work our way to a schedule that fits your body. This means starting off easy, maybe a 12 hour fast so you are asleep for 6 to 8 of the hours and wait a few hours before eating in the morning but make it a point to not eat past 7 pm at night. This teaches your body that it is not about deprivation, but rather setting those boundaries when it is time for your body to kick into recovery mode during sleep. Eventually, you can work your way up to an 18-hour fasting schedule without feeling deprived.
Personally, the key for me has been being mindful of my calorie intake during my 6-hour eating window. It is important that I consume the nutrients my body needs to keep hunger at bay during my 18 hours fast so I can’t waste those valuable calories on high-fat or sugary food that slow down my body’s natural dietary processes.
The whole process has become so natural for me that I do have to occasionally remind myself that it’s time to eat during my window to avoid eating too late during the day. One of Dave Asprey’s quote that has stuck with me, and is so appropriate for this topic, is “Lack of sleep is way more of a problem than lack of food”. From my experience, after just a few days of intermittent fasting, you stop thinking about food and have an increased level of energy.
EAT RIGHT TO SLEEP RIGHT
Now that we know we need to be conscious to not overload our bodies with food before bed, we step into the most important part of nutrition and sleep… getting the right nutrients for our body. This means the right daily mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. A lot of this can be absorbed through proper diet and food selection, but we all know that our busy lives and workday schedules don’t always allow for the most optimal food selection and preparation.
This makes it even more important for us to understand what foods we should be consuming at what time of day, what foods we should start to seek out, and what foods we should avoid altogether. You should be exploring what your body responds well to in terms of digestion, and the healthiest diet and amount of food intake to keep you powered through the day. What I will focus on moving forward are specific foods that will directly affect how you sleep, your sleep duration, and most importantly sleep quality.
WORST FOODS FOR SLEEP:
You should avoid high levels of caffeine in your food and beverages at night. Caffeine causes an increased occurrence of rapid eve movement, meaning the brain remains active and is unable to naturally cycle into its slow-wave sleep and REM sleep cycles. You should avoid coffee, caffeinated teas, and energy drinks at night.
While cheese is generally considered comfort food, it is actually one of the worst foods to eat before bed. Cheese contains a high level of the amino acid, tyramine, which promotes alertness and keeps the adrenal gland active for hours.
Like cheese, you will also find high levels of tyramine in cured or preserved meats. An active adrenal gland again stops the brain from starting the body’s nighttime restorative cycles including REM sleep cycles.
Spicy foods may increase body temperature which interferes with the body’s thermoregulation process which directly interrupts the sleep process. These also maintain an overactive digestive system and will surely interrupt the ability to maintain deep sleep.
We’ve all heard of a sugar high and also the sugar crash. The crash in fact can substantially interfere with sleep as this would likely happen while you are asleep if consumed too late. The crash in blood sugar alerts the adrenals of an emergency and in turn, increases cortisol levels which will rush you to an awake stage.
Some of the best foods for sleep include cherries and almonds. Cherries naturally contain melatonin, and while we don’t recommend you consume a bunch of cherries before bedtime as that triggers digestive activity, opting for tart cherry juice will help give you that melatonin boost and keep your digestive tract calm. You may also consider melatonin supplements. Almonds contain high levels of muscle-relaxing magnesium and compared to other foods such as bananas, do not have the sugar content. In fact, almonds help regulate our blood sugar as we sleep.
SUPPLEMENT YOUR DIET
While you can absorb many of the vital nutrients your body needs by keeping a well-balanced diet, it is also important to add a vitamin supplement to your daily schedule to fill in the potential gaps. There are particular supplements that also help prepare for bedtime, and as we mentioned earlier melatonin is recognized as safe for healthy adults. My personal favorite combination at the moment is a melatonin gummy and 50mg of CBD oil an hour before bedtime. I find this helps in taking the edge off and has been helpful in accelerating my time to actually fall asleep.
There are many supplements that are known to assist with the pre-bedtime routine, while I don’t have personal experience with them I did find some well-reviewed and commonly used supplements including:
California Poppy- Used in traditional medicine as a sedative, scientists have found that it helps raise the levels of GABA, the relation-boosting chemical.
Glycine Supplements - Viewed as safe and may raise the amount of serotonin which may impact sleep.
Chamomile - A cup of chamomile herbal tea before bed is known for its calming effect.
Magnesium - Said to improve sleep in older people.
For my personal use, I’ve trusted LifeGive vegan products by Hippocrates Health Institute, and Bulletproof supplements. I’ve been using Bulletproof gummies and find they have worked best for me, I do use them in conjunction with other daytime supplements. Their melatonin gummies include GABA and have no sugar. There are many brands, but I have prioritized choosing supplements with no added sugar to ensure I can control my daily nutrient intake properly. It’s important for you to take note and understand the ingredients so you can choose the right products to match your lifestyle.
Even if you are not tracking sleep interruptions or your overall sleep quality, best practices in nutrition will improve sleep quality and regenerative sleep which you will likely notice improved energy levels throughout the day. Avoid eating late at night and for those raising to a higher level of performance, make the last meal in the afternoon hours. Your body will convert the food to energy when you are looking to slow down your central nervous system. Portion control should also be monitored as high portions keep the digestive system overactive for extended periods of time.
As we rely on sleep to be the regenerator of our energy, and our energy dictates our overall wellness, it is important to look at all elements in our daily routine that can help support the best sleep possible. Don’t overlook the impact nutrition and diet play on your sleep quality.