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Making sense of sleep nutrients on World Sleep Day

Sleep is where it all happens — everything from repair, recovery to immunity building, blood pressure, heart function, detoxification, hormonal balance, brain detoxification, healing, muscle growth and so much more. Sleep is as important as food for us to survive and so is the harmony between the two. Sleep and nutrition have a cyclical relationship; sleep quality can affect hunger cues and lead to weight gain, while proper nutrition and timing of meals can improve sleep quality and enhance overall health. Eating the right kind of nutrition can improve this relationship and help produce more nights of restorative sleep.

The equation
Eating habits can impact sleep quality primarily by influencing neurotransmitters, hormones, and digestion. Neurotransmitters and hormones help control our sleep patterns, but they also influence all of the body’s natural processes. Not only is it important to pay attention to what we eat before bed, but also when we eat during the day. Most evidence suggests that a consistent diet, eating the bulk of food earlier in the day, and avoiding eating late in the evening can improve sleep quality. “Eating heavy or large meals close to bedtime can disrupt sleep by increasing acid reflux symptoms and causing indigestion. The right strategy would be to maintain a three hour gap between your dinner and bedtime,” says Manjari Chandra, Consultant Therapeutic and Functional Nutrition.

Pack in the right nutrients
A number of nutritional factors influence sleep, including melatonin, tryptophan, a high glycemic index diet before bedtime, and maintenance of a balanced and healthy diet. “An amino acid called tryptophan is directly involved in production of the hormone melatonin which helps in inducing sleep. So consuming foods that are rich in tryptophan — nuts, dairy, chicken, eggs — will help in increasing quality sleep,” says dietician Kamal Yadav, Max Super Specialty Hospital. Work on your sleep hormones. “Fatty fish is a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 FAs, nutrients important for the regulation of serotonin and therefore sleep regulation. Almonds contain high doses of melatonin and helps regulate the sleep and wake cycle,” enlightens Chandra. Magnesium also increases levels of GABA, the neurotransmitter that helps reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve sleep. Along with B6, magnesium also helps the body to produce serotonin. Eat dry fruits, bananas, green leafy vegetables, oil seeds.

Foods that are a big NO
“Foods that are very high in carbohydrates like sugar or energy drinks, foods high in saturated fatty acids like bakery products and high protein foods that take longer to digest have been shown to increase the chances of disturbed and fragmented sleep,” says Yadav. Steer clear of stimulants like caffeine to sleep well. The stimulating effects of caffeine may impact the body’s Circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep, remain asleep, and enter deep sleep cycles. The same holds true for alcohol, a depressant. It helps you fall asleep fast but prevents you from entering deep, restorative sleep.

Can poor sleep sap nutrients?
Sleep and the circadian system are strong regulators of immunological processes. Just as sleep contributes to the body’s Circadian rhythm, so does your diet. Eating close to the same time each day and making sure to have a healthy balance of nutrients will aid in aligning your body with its natural rhythm, which might in turn improve sleep. “On the other hand, a recurring lack of sleep or erratic sleep timings can lead to latent chronic inflammation in the gut and lead to the underproduction of digestive enzymes. This leads to malabsorption of micronutrients causing a cascade of health conditions,” warns Chandra.

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