What should we eat to sleep well?
Published 26 May 2021 • By Candice Salomé
Food plays an essential role in the quality of sleep. There are many preconceived ideas about which foods to avoid and which to enjoy in order to get a good night's sleep.
But what is the true link between diet and sleep? What should you eat to sleep well? How long should you space out your bedtime meal?
We tell you everything in our article!
It is important to follow your own rhythm and sleep needs. But you should also pay special attention to your diet, especially in the evening. There are many interactions between sleep and food.
What is the link between our diet and sleep?
Neurotransmitters are chemical molecules that ensure the transmission of messages from one neuron to another, at the synaptic level. These messages (also called nerve impulses) are responsible for our body's activity, our mood and also influence our level of fatigue.
Among the many neurotransmitters, serotonin, melatonin, adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine are the five that play a major role in our body's activity.
Serotonin is made from tryptophan and is an amino acid, i.e. a component of proteins. It cannot be produced by the body and must be supplied each day via our diet. Serotonin is responsible for the feeling of well-being and happiness and helps to combat anxiety in stress. It makes it possible to take a step back from certain events and is also involved in the mechanisms for controlling emotional hunger.
To put it simply, tryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin, which itself contributes to the production of melatonin. And melatonin, in turn, helps us to fall asleep and improves our quality of sleep.
Conversely, dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline are useful in the morning and during the day to keep us alert and awake.
Diet plays a major role in rebalancing the production of these neurotransmitters by giving nerve cells the right micronutrients at the right time of day.
Which nutrients make it easier to fall asleep?
Here are the nutrients you should consider for your evening meal:
- Foods rich in tryptophan such as eggs, dairy products, fish, brown rice, beans and bananas. The food richest in tryptophan continues to be meat, but as it is also rich in tyrosine (which participates in the synthesis of adrenalin and norepinephrine), it is better to avoid eating it in the evening.
- Foods with a high glycaemic index facilitate the use of tryptophan without causing a spike in insulin levels. Complex carbohydrates such as starchy foods or legumes are therefore preferable. The latter should be an integral part of the evening meal.
- Magnesium also plays a role in the production of serotonin (and therefore melatonin). Foods rich in magnesium are: dark chocolate, almonds, bananas, spinach.
- Vitamin B6, found in seafood and fish, facilitates the assimilation of magnesium and increases its effects.
- Omega 3 fatty acids help to optimise the transmission of nerve messages. They are helpful for falling asleep but also provide energy during the day. They are mainly found in: walnuts and walnut oil, rapeseed oil, linseed, chia seeds, camelina oil and fatty fish.
A varied, balanced diet rich in micronutrients will give you the best chance of a good night's sleep.
Which food habits keep us from falling asleep?
As we have seen above, some dietary habits are beneficial for falling asleep and staying asleep, while others will, on the contrary, make it harder for us to fall asleep:
- A meal high in protein and tyrosine, such as meat, for example.
- Caffeine increases the synthesis of dopamine and adrenaline. It is therefore best to avoid caffeine towards the end of the day, as its effects only wear off after 5 to 6 hours after ingestion.
- Alcohol can cause "rebound insomnia". After helping you to fall asleep, it can actually trigger the release of adrenaline and block the absorption of tryptophan into the brain. These factors prevent you from entering the deep stage of sleep.
- A heavy meal slows down the digestion process. While we digest, our body temperature rises and this phenomenon can keep us from falling asleep.
- Simple carbohydrates or sugars stimulate an overproduction of insulin and can cause cravings shortly after falling asleep.
At what time should we have dinner, then?
You shouldn't eat too early because the brain, which is very active during the night, needs to be fed, nor too late, as digestion is detrimental to sleep. Ideally, you should have dinner at least two hours before going to bed.
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