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November 2023

The Role of Sleep & Health

Although tossing-and-turning through the night is common, it should not be taken lightly. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for overall health.  It may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, keep the brain healthy, and boost the immune system.  Sleep is affected by many things including underlying medical issues and mental health; nutrition also plays a roll.  Here are some ways that may help improve your sleep.

Sleep Basics 101
The amount of sleep depends on a number of factors, especially age. Although sleep needs vary among individuals, the general consensus is that adults should have 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Additional factors that affect sleep needs:

  • Sleep Quality– it is just as important as the quantity of sleep.  If your sleep is frequently interrupted, you’re not getting quality sleep.
  • Sleep Deprivation - sleep needs increase if you are sleep deprived.

Getting less than seven (7) hours of sleep on a regular basis has been linked to poor health, including weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and depression.

Need Better Sleep?
Although there is no silver bullet that will guarantee a good night’s sleep, there are some foods & beverages that may help.

  • Hot Tea – tea made from valerian, chamomile and other non-caffeinated options.  Tea is a natural tranquilizer and may improve the quality of sleep.
  • Nighttime Milk – a warm glass of milk, as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid linked to better sleep. If you are lactose intolerant try lactose-free milk.
  • Poultry – rich in tryptophan that can induce feelings of sleepiness.
  • Fish – rich in vitamin B6, with salmon, tuna and halibut having the most. B6 makes melatonin, referred to as a sleep hormone.
  • Kiwi – a recent study suggested that this fruit can impact sleep, enhancing the duration and quality.
  • Nuts – walnuts, pistachios, cashews and almonds contain magnesium, zinc and melatonin, helpful to sleep.
  • Fresh Herbs – such as basil can have a calming effect.

Still Can’t Sleep?
Dietary patterns and lifestyle can also impact sleep. Try making small behavior changes such as:

  • Limit caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening.
  • Make dinner your lightest meal. Minimize spicy or rich foods.
  • Stop eating 2-hrs prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol, especially at night.
  • If you nap, make it earlier in the day, limit to 20-30 minutes.
  • Be physically active, however, avoid exercise
    4-hours before bed.
  • Limit screen time, especially in bed.
  • Develop a sleep routine by going to bed at the same time each night.

The Bottom Line
These foods & behaviors may help sleep, however, there is no substitute for a healthy eating pattern.  Focus on a variety of colorful vegetables & fruits, whole grains, lean protein, reduced fat dairy, and healthy fats. Choosing foods from the food groups, along with an active lifestyle are vital to overall health.  Enhancing a healthy eating pattern with these sleep-inducing foods and behavior changes may reduce the restless nights and turn into “sweet dreams”!


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