By , YMCA Registered Dietitian

Doctors recommend the average adult should get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Yet, 1 in 3 people aren’t meeting that goal! We’ve all been there: tossing and turning, making trips to the bathroom, or hitting, “Yes, I’m still watching” way past our bedtime. 

Whatever the cause for your lack of sufficient sleep, the toll it takes on your body is evident. Adults who get less than six hours of sleep per night have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and decreased immune function.

While there are several lifestyle changes that can promote healthy sleep (such as setting a regular bedtime, leaving phones out of the bedroom, and sleeping in a cool room), there are also a few diet tweaks that can have a big impact. Check out the following three tips to help you get a restful night of sleep!

1. Choose whole grains over simple carbs.

Many studies have tried to find a link between carbohydrates and sleep quality. The data is still limited, but evidence suggests that a high intake of simple carbohydrates can increase REM sleep. Increased sleep sounds good, right? Well, REM is important in the memory function of your brain, but it isn’t the deep sleep that allows you to feel rested.

Basically, that means limiting refined sugars can promote more deep sleep and less REM sleep. So, if you find yourself yawning your way through the day, try cutting back on things like cookies, cakes, juices, white breads and pastas, and opt for more complex carbohydrates like the ones found in fruits, whole wheat breads, beans, and oats.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Fruit-veggie table

Speaking of fruits, you may see lots of information regarding specific fruits and veggies that “help you sleep better,” but research hasn’t quite nailed that down yet. We do, however, know that increasing overall intake of fresh fruits and vegetables promotes sleep for a couple reasons:

  • The first one is that an overall healthier diet increases sleep quality in general, and incorporating more vitamins and minerals through fresh produce is absolutely encouraged in any well-balanced diet.
  • The second reason is that fruits and veggies contain tryptophan, which is used by your body to make melatonin (a.k.a. the sleep hormone).

Therefore, eating lots of fruits and veggies means your body has what it needs to help put you to sleep at a decent time, meaning less lying in bed and waiting for your alarm to sound.

3. Limit your sodium.

The average American is eating way more salt than we need to, and that can have some serious effects on sleep! It is recommended that adults living without high blood pressure consume about 2300mg of sodium per day. For reference, there’s 2300mg of sodium in exactly ONE TEASPOON of salt!

So, where does all of that excess salt go? Your body tries to flush it out by encouraging increased fluid intake (thirst), which ultimately leads to more bathroom trips, some of which are happening in the middle of the night. And if you’re like me, once you get up, you’re bound to stub your toe or start thinking about your to-do list, and then you’re awake for the next hour. So, less salt = less thirst = fewer midnight trips to the bathroom AND better overall health.

Takeaway

While there aren’t any magical foods that will guide you into a Sleeping Beauty slumber, we know that there are general rules of thumb that can assist you in getting more z’s. Ultimately, poor dietary choices lead to poor sleep quality, which means we don’t have the energy to make good dietary choices. This vicious cycle repeats itself, and we’re left with bags under our eyes and a serious caffeine addiction. So, if you find yourself making one too many trips to the breakroom coffee pot, try these tips to help you feel more energized and ready to take on the day.

Are you constantly hungry before bed? Check out our advice on pre-bedtime snacking and how mindful eating helps weight loss.