With the World Sleep Day on March 17, what better topic to cover than the quality of our nightly snoozes. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, almost 45 per cent of Australian adults sleep poorly most nights.
The main mechanisms that induce and maintain our sleeping patterns include melatonin (hormone), serotonin (neurotransmitter), magnesium, Omega-3 (unsaturated fatty acid), Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. These can actually be influenced by what we eat on a daily basis. In fact, for those of you having trouble sleeping, there are a few ‘natural’ sleep-enhancing foods available out there for consumption.
Malted or Melatonin-Enriched Milk
At one time or another, we have all heard of drinking warm milk before bedtime. This myth has been partially debunked! For adults, various research studies found that commercial milk has little to no effect on our sleeping patterns [2 3]. Instead, it is milk fortified with malted barley and wheat or enriched with melatonin that provide efficient sleep [2 3]. Malted milk has sleep-promoters such as magnesium and Vitamin B12. Similarly, melatonin-enriched milk has the exact hormone that controls our sleep quality and so logically, a small nightly intake can have a positive sleepiness effect.
Fatty fish, like salmon, has Vitamin D and Omega-3 which increase melatonin and serotonin secretion respectively [3 4 5]. Researchers found this protein to be more beneficial when eating it three times a week consistently, rather than just before bedtime . Thankfully because who would want to eat fish every night before slumber time?
I know, right? A kiwi seems like a random food compared to what so many others out there have to give. Well, it just so happens that this green luscious fruit was successful in one study for sleep efficiency and quality due to its high antioxidants and serotonin levels. Eating 2 kiwis one hour before bedtime could help us get a proper nights rest [2 3]. Although the relationship between antioxidants, including kiwi, and sleep is still unclear, it would not hurt to try it out.
Much like kiwi, tart cherries are packed with antioxidants, but they also have melatonin [2 3] . A few studies found that daily doses of this fruit, whether whole or as a juice, can increase the duration of sleep and decrease awakenings [3 2]. Depending on the cultivar, the cherries will affect our sleep differently.
Diet Solution for Sleep?
Even though these food products might improve sleep quality, they are not magical formulas. Eating a lot of processed and sugary foods as well as being on fad diets – high-fat, high-protein and high-carbohydrate – have been associated with an overall lower sleep quality1. Strong and consistent evidence suggest that eating a balanced-diet and meeting the daily vegetable and fruit intake are key to a good night’s sleep [1 2 3 4 5].
1. Lindseth, G., Lindseth, P., & Thompson, M. (2013). Nutritional Effects on Sleep. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 35(4), 497-513.
2. Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola,N., & Korpela,R (2012). Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutrition Research, 32(5), 309-319.
3. St-Onge, M., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 938-49.
4. Yamaguchi, M., Uemura, H., Katsuura-Kamano, S., Nakamoto, M., Hiyoshi, M., Takami, H., . . . Arisawa, K. (2013). Relationship of dietary factors and habits with sleep-wake regularity. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 22(3), 457-65.
5. Yu, C., Shi, Z., Lv, J., Guo, Y., Bian, Z., Du, H., … Li, L. (2017). Dietary Patterns and Insomnia Symptoms in Chinese Adults: The China Kadoorie Biobank. Nutrients. 9, 232.