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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!

What should we eat to sleep well?

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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avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialises in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sport. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more

4 comments


nineteen_gale
on 05/06/2021

Thank you very much for a very interesting and informative article. I have learnt something from it. I will now change the timings of certain supplements that I take in the morning, to my evening meal time, eg Omega 3, Magnesium and B vitamins. I usually fall asleep quickly, but tend to wake up very early, between 03.30 and 04.00 and then unable to fall asleep again. Consequently I am up by 5 in the morning, as once awake and unable to fall sleep is frustrating and more tiring. I do have dark chocolate after my evening meal which is around 6.30 pm

Once again, thank you for this article. it was very helpful to me.


lesmal • Ambassador
on 09/06/2021

Thank you for the above information; most useful.

I've never had a good sleeping pattern due to epilepsy medications and also a weak bladder. I'm up every two or three hours no matter what the situation is. I tried melatonin sometime ago but found this didn't work either. Eventually, I settled on drinking chamomile tea at night which helped me sleep occasionally. I drink caffeine-free tea and decaffeinated coffee; one cup of coffee just after dinner. 

Approximately 4 years ago I took Vitamin B and Folic Acid, Magnesium, etc., but when arriving in Northern Ireland the doctors took me off supplements and told me I should be getting them from my diet. With all the side effects I've had from recent medications, together with allergies to certain foods, my doctor is now checking vitamin levels through blood tests which I hope will pick up some results. 

I also enjoy dark chocolate at night after my dinner!  


nineteen_gale
on 09/06/2021

@lesmal‍ 

Thank you for your message. It is true that we should be getting our vitamins minerals etc from the diet. i would like to make 2 points on this subject. 1. Not every one eats a healthy normal diet containing all the essential vitamins and minerals, although I do. Some people do not know what food to eat for which vitamins and minerals. Point number 2. As we age, our bodies do not absorb all the essential required vitamins and minerals and we need to supplement them. I have been taking the supplements of a number of years, and have given a list of supplements I take to GP to ensure that none that I take interact with my regular medication. Thank you for the information, I do appreciate it. Good luck and God bless.


lesmal • Ambassador
on 09/06/2021

@nineteen_gale‍ ... Thank you for the useful information also... Once I get results I can decide with my doctor which vitamins are lacking. Obviously, then I will take as per his plan. 

Keep well. 

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