What we eat, when and how it influences our health. So far we discover nothing new: the relationship between food and pathologies such as obesity or cardiovascular diseases is known. What perhaps is not so important is that food, the process by which we obtain the essential nutrients for the development of all the vital functions of the organism, plays a decisive role in wakefulness and sleep.
The habits of society have changed in recent years. Now we no longer eat only when we are hungry. As indicated by the Spanish Sleep Society (SES), the time spent on food is very conditioned by social habits, work rhythm, shifts, coexistence and convenience (in addition to religion and leisure) and everything this influences the quality of sleep, as well as whether it is insufficient or fragmented can affect our eating behavior. In fact, sleeping little or bad produces an imbalance in the hormones that regulate satiety and appetite increasing the risk of overweight and obesity. In addition, obese people sleep worse.
Taking into account all these factors, the Spanish saying breakfast like a king, eat like a prince and dinner like a beggar, serves to make clear the relationship of diet with our nightly rest. “Ingested food and beverages provide us with the necessary ingredients to synthesize the different neurotransmitters involved in wakefulness and sleep. It is therefore interesting to know what foods can help facilitate or hinder sleep and even the most propitious time of the day to consume them, “says Teresa Canet, member of the SES.The expert points out that in the evening and at night you should eat foods that help the synthesis of hormones that promote sleep and at breakfast the most stimulating and caloric foods to provide energy for the rest of the day.
The popular belief is that high-protein diets help you fall asleep while carbohydrates make it difficult. However, this statement is wrong. “Ideally at night to promote sleep is to consume foods that contain carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta or cereals accompanied by vegetables, as they increase the secretion of serotonin,” recommends Natalia Galván Bravo, expert in nutrition Sanitas Blua, who points out that foods rich in protein reduce the synthesis of this substance, so they will not help us in the same way to rest.
Canet goes further and tells us about the relationship of food with the amino acid tryptophan, essential for the formation of the main hormones involved in sleep (melatonin and serotonin). Tryptophan is part of the proteins and for this reason the population tends to think that protein diets are better. However, it is the least abundant amino acid. In contrast, carbohydrates facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain. “That’s why, after a meal with abundant carbohydrates, we get easily drowsy,” Canet says.
What do we have to eat to sleep better?
In addition to tryptophan, Galván specifies that there are substances that help us improve the quality of our sleep. “Among them we can highlight serotonin, melatonin, calcium and magnesium (which allow nerve connections) and vitamins of group B”. Based on this, the experts recommend some foods that we should include in our diet:
The specialist indicates that foods rich in tryptophan, such as bananas, pineapple, avocado, milk, meat, eggs, blue fish or nuts should be included in the diet because they favor the manufacture of serotonin and melatonin “In addition, they are rich in magnesium, calcium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B, which are necessary for the tryptophan to turn into serotonin and melatonin in the brain,” says Canet.
Include a number of foods rich in carbohydrates, such as wholemeal bread, potatoes, some pasta or honey, also promote sleep, as they improve the availability of tryptophan in the brain It is one of the remedies that pass from generation to generation: drink a glass of milk before sleeping to call Morfeo. Works? Both experts confirm this tradition and that milk is rich in tryptophan, calcium and vitamin B12, substances that are easily assimilated and involved in the regulation of sleep becoming the first in the main hormones of this and the others facilitating their conversion.
As a recommendation, specialists recommend taking warm milk to enhance the feeling of well-being and relaxation.
“There are infusions that, due to their compounds, favor a better sleep, but not all infusions do it”, warns Galván. “All those that contain theine are going to have an opposite effect, since it is an exciting one”.
Taking into account this, the ones that do help to get to sleep are the linden, lemon balm, valerian, orange blossom or passion flower for their synergistic action of flavonoids and maltol. “An alternative to infusions, if these increase the frequency to go to the bathroom, is to ingest them in capsules,” recommends Canet.
What foods prevent us from sleeping?
On the other side of the coin are the foods that hinder our rest and that we should avoid consuming if we want to get a good night’s sleep. However, from the SES they clarify that the final effect will depend on the quantity, the substance ingested and the susceptibility of each person.In the first place, the drinks considered stimulants are the ones that mainly rob us of sleep. The main ones to consider, according to both specialists, are coffee, tea and colas or chocolate, since they contain caffeine and can keep us alert for hours making our sleep difficult.
Other drinks that also negatively influence it are alcoholic beverages. “These ingested in moderate amounts can quickly induce sleep; although, once reconciled most of the time it alters producing early awakening, sleep apnea and insomnia, “warns Canet, who points out that caffeine taken with alcoholic beverages does not prevent the harmful effects of alcohol.It would also be necessary to restrict spicy spices at dinner, since they increase body temperature and hypersecretion of gastric juice. “Foods that cause dyspepsia due to flatulence (legumes), acidity (hot spices, coffee and alcohol) or reflux (chocolate, peppermint and fatty foods) and those with diuretic properties (endives, celery, eggplant or onion) can hinder sleep
In addition, the SES recommends avoiding high-tyrosine foods in the last hours of the day, such as fruits rich in vitamin C (orange or kiwi). “Meat, sausages, very spicy foods or precooked foods would not be a recommended dinner,” Galván adds.