By: Sarah Jennings
June 17, 2020

How to Improve Your Sleep Health

Have you ever had one of those nights where you just can’t sleep? 

You toss and turn and toss and turn. Your brain thinks about pretty much anything except getting some good quality sleep. Or do you wake up in the morning, after having slept through the night, and still feel unrested? 

For the longest time, I struggled with healthy sleep habits. It wasn’t until I began exploring the factors that contribute to a good night’s rest that I realized just how much of what we do during our day impacts the quantity and the quality of the sleep we get at night...even what we EAT!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Sleep Foundation both recommend that adults average anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. These recommendations exist because, through countless hours of research, we have discovered that the amount and quality of our sleep affects just about every facet of our lives. From our metabolism and energy levels to our temperament, relationships, and our immune system. 

Many external factors affect our quality of sleep. Some of these include physical activity, screen time, stress, medical conditions, chronic pain, the medications we take, and even what we EAT! That’s right, what we eat throughout our day has a significant impact on how we sleep at night. You can invest money in the best room-darkening curtains, play the most soothing sound machine, and turn the thermostat as cool as it can go. BUT if you aren’t getting the essential nutrients needed for a good night’s rest, it could all be a lost cause.

Sarah’s 3 Favorite Foods to Elicit High-Quality Sleep

  1. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables - Look to include more dark leafy greens in your diet to ensure that you set yourself up for sleeping success. Spinach is high in magnesium, swiss chard is high in potassium, and collard greens (which in my opinion, are the star of the show) are high in calcium, B Vitamins, and magnesium. All of these vitamins and nutrients are proven essential for our diets and directly affect our sleep health.
  1. Avocado - Guacamole anyone? Yes, please! I’m pretty sure if I were on a deserted island and could only bring one food source with me, it would be avocados. Not only are they versatile and delicious, but they are proven to be incredibly healthy and also very beneficial to our sleep health. Avocados are known for being a great source of Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino-acid essential to our sleep-wake cycle, and it increases serotonin which in turn increases melatonin. 
  1. Almonds and Walnuts - I rarely leave the house without a stash of nuts in my purse or the center console of my car. Not only are nuts a fantastic source of heart-healthy fats, according to the National Sleep Foundation, they also contain high levels of melatonin, one of the most important sleep hormones that contribute to the regulation of our circadian rhythms. 

Foods to Avoid for Higher Quality Sleep

  1. Caffeine - We have all heard that caffeine can be detrimental to our sleep. In fact, many of us (including myself) start our day off with a cup or two of coffee to wake us up and help get us going. There is also a large population of individuals that drink coffee all day long, and this is where it really can alter our sleep health. In fact, one study found that caffeine consumed six hours before bedtime can cut out as much as one full hour of sleep. 
  1. Alcohol - It is important to monitor your alcohol intake for many reasons, one being just how much it can affect your quality of sleep. Alcohol metabolizes very quickly in our bodies and interrupts our sleep several times during the night. Additionally, one study found that a single glass of bourbon or vodka can reduce sleep by 19 minutes. 
  1. High-fat foods - Foods that are high in fat like fatty meats, cheese, and fried foods, just to name a few, can really sabotage our sleep health. Fat is a stimulator for acid production in the stomach and also takes much longer for our bodies to digest. This can lead to heartburn and many other intestinal issues, making it incredibly uncomfortable to sleep. 

As one of the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine, according to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, sleep plays a vital role to our immune function and overall health and well-being. So, I hope you find these tips helpful as you embark on a journey to improve your sleep health. If this speaks to you, let’s chat. I would love to explore healthy habits with you. 

Be healthy, be happy, be you!



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