13 March 2022
Does what you eat affect sleep?
If you feel tired throughout the day, consider the quality of your sleep. Do you get a good amount of uninterrupted slumber? Or do you stare at the ceiling for hours, or toss and turn all night? We wondered: does what you eat affect sleep?
In a recent review of studies conducted between 1975 and 2020, Chicago and Columbia University researchers reported an association between better sleep quality and diet. Participants eating more complex (high fibre, vitamin and mineral content) carbohydrates and healthy (unsaturated) fats (such as canola and olive oil), and meeting the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein (45-64g for adolescents and adults <70yo) reported better quality sleep. Interestingly, participants eating very high protein or refined carbohydrate (white flour-based, highly processed) diets reported fitful, disrupted sleep.
Complex carbohydrates include legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans) wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Participants that included these types of complex carbohydrates in their daily diets reported longer and deeper sleep.
How does what you eat affect sleep? We are not really sure, but the research commented that plant-based diets (high in complex carbohydrates and plant-based protein) help produce more melatonin and serotonin (both hormones required for sleep), and also pointed out the gut-brain link. Just another thing our gut buddies help us with!
What is meant by a plant-based diet? It is a common misconception that this means a vegetarian or vegan diet, but that is not the case. Plant-based simply means that the veggies and/or legumes and/or nuts and seeds are the ‘stars’ or focus of meals. The meal can, and often does, include animal sources of protein such as meat, fish or poultry in regular-sized portions. It is all about proportions and flipping what we have done in the past.
Consider the traditional Australian dinner plate (example shown above). Containing a big chunk of meat and 1-3 veg (mostly potato), the star of that meal was always the steak, taking up at least half of the plate. Plant-based diets replace that steak with half a plate of veggies of assorted colours, a palm-sized portion of meat and a similar amount of a wholegrain such as brown rice or couscous, as shown in the image below.
Portions of chicken or turkey can be a bit larger, and fish larger still as they are less dense/lighter than meat. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a maximum of 455g of lean, cooked red meat per week as part of 3-4 healthy, balanced meals (this includes the week’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, not just dinners). The Heart Foundation recommends 2-3 serves of fish (including oily fish such as salmon, tuna and trout) per week. Don’t forget that legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans) also contain good quality plant protein, so Meat-free Monday’s vegetarian Mexican meal also counts, there is no need to include mince!
What then is considered a good eating pattern for a restful night’s sleep? Why the Mediterranean Diet, of course. No wonder they find it so easy to nap during their afternoon siestas!
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