Eat Your Way To A Great Night's Sleep
THE RIGHT FOODS (AND SOME MINDFUL TACTICS) CAN HELP YOU FIND BLISSFUL ZZZS
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” It’s a powerful and hopeful thought. That is, assuming you can get to sleep. And a surprising number of people can’t. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one-third of U.S. adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night, the recommended amount. And women report a higher rate of insomnia than men.
Finding consistent, solid rest in today’s overscheduled, tech-centered lifestyle has become a mission and movement for bold-face names like media giant Arianna Huffington and created a booming market for all manner of sleep aids, from weighted blankets to luxe bath soaks.
But the most impactful factor to healthy and lasting sleep is something entirely within your control from the moment you wake up. No book or bath needed (though we never say no to a nighttime bath, a favorite self-care ritual). It’s the food you choose to eat each and every day.
Why Sleep Matters
Sleep, like diet, is key to your optimal health and well-being. It’s part of the balance you need to live a healthy, vibrant existence. When you rest, the body and mind are able to detoxify, heal, and re-energize. While you sleep, your energy shifts inward to help your system fight free radicals, reduce inflammation, boost immunity and stimulate cellular repair. It’s a much-needed respite for your mind too. During the day, we are taxing our brain with problem-solving, decision making, and absorbing stress. In a truly restful state, your mind is able to unplug and get the much-needed reboot it needs to hit the ground running again when you wake.
Your sleep-wake cycle is controlled by your circadian rhythm (aka your biological clock) and sleep homeostasis, an internal biochemical system that works intuitively to remind you when to rest. Both of these are influenced by an array of internal and external factors including exercise, stress, and diet. If any of these are factors are out of whack, your sleep is most likely to suffer.
The Gut-Sleep Connection
Your microbiome, the community of bacteria in and on your body, including the all-important five pounds in your gut, influences your entire system...digestion, nutrient absorption, hormone balance, energy, immunity, weight, mood, and skin clarity. It also is pivotal when it comes to the quality of your sleep.
In fact, there is a symbiotic relationship between your microbiome and sleep. Crucial sleep-inducing neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, are developed and released in your gut. Melatonin is produced in the gut as well as the brain. And like sleep, our microbiome is affected by circadian rhythms. When our natural sleep process is disrupted, the health of your microbiome is compromised. A healthy gut and good sleep are intrinsically linked. Eat well and you’ll promote healthy sleep and solid sleep will keep your microbiome thriving.
Each new day offers an opportunity to encourage healthy microflora that will make your body energized and high-functioning by day and support healthy sleep each night.
Eat a whole, plant-rich diet: We know the more whole, fresh plants you get into your body each day, the more essential nutrients you’re feeding your gut. These antioxidants, phytonutrients, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, water, and fiber create a healthy microbiome that sends the right signals to your system to rest. Magnesium in particular, prevalent in dark leafy greens, legumes, avocados, nuts, bananas, and sweet potatoes, has a powerful link to combatting insomnia.
Focus on organic ingredients: Healthy foods start with healthy soil. Focusing on quality, organic foods ensure your body absorbs the most life-giving vitamins and minerals without any toxic pesticides or growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains contain higher levels of antioxidants which lower inflammation and have been shown to promote better sleep. Another enticing reason to eat clean.
Remember your prebiotics: Prebiotics are the food that the bacteria in your microbiome (probiotics) eat for energy. So the better food you feed them, the healthier your microbiome, and the better your sleep. You can ensure you’re getting healthy prebiotics with a natural supplement and consuming foods high in prebiotics like garlic, sunchokes, jicama, turmeric, dandelion greens, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Eat well and you’ll promote healthy sleep, and solid sleep leads to a thriving microbiome.
Add a natural sleep aid: Tapping into a few key natural ingredients can be added insurance for blissful rest. Catnip, an herb in the mint family, contains nepetalactone that helps calm the nervous system. A flowering root revered by Hippocrates, Valerian promotes relaxation and helps you fall asleep. Passionflower, a natural sedative, is shown to increase levels of calming GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain to encourage relaxation and lower anxiety. Sakara Sleep Tea contains all three, along with chamomile and lavender, making it a soothing sip to enjoy as you prepare your body for rest. L-Theanine, an amino acid also impacts your neurotransmitters, reducing overall stress and anxiety. You can find it in green and black tea and certain mushroom species. (An easy way to enjoy it is to make a smoothie with this plant-based nutrition powder.
More Healthy Sleep Habits
While setting the foundation for great sleep starts in your gut, there are other external factors keeping you from much-needed rest. Keeping the below tips in mind can help to set you up for less tossing and turning.
Set up a soothing space: Create a bedroom that says “it’s time to wind down.” First, keep the temperature comfortable and cool. A warm space can hinder sleep. Use your bed for sleep and sex only: No streaming that movie on your laptop or working on spreadsheets. Finally, reduce any ambient light and noise. Use an eye mask and earplugs if necessary.
Cut off alcohol, exercise, and caffeine: A workout, cocktail, or coffee too close to bedtime can all be impediments to sleep. Optimally, you don’t want to have any of these within four hours of turn down. That goes for eating too. You’ll sleep better on a not-so-full stomach.
Unplug and unburden your mind: Being connected is a great thing. But not at bedtime. Limit your screen time at night. The electromagnetic waves computers, tablets, and phones can keep you up. To further, “turn off,” be mindful of any worries or heavy thoughts. Keep a notebook nearby and before bed, write down the things that are weighing you down. You’ll find it’s easier to drift off with a clear head.
Make time for self-care: There are activities you can do before bed that actually further ground and relax you, putting the body and mind at ease. And they are an excuse to treat yourself to a bit of pampering. Try a warm bath with a cup of Epsom salts and a few drops of an essential oil like lavender. Or go for a few minutes of guided meditation. Apps like Stop, Breathe & Think make it easy if you are new to the practice. Additionally, a few yoga poses give your body a great stretch at the end of the day and prime your body for rest.
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