It has long been known that proper sleep and nutrition play a critical role in our mental health. What is often overlooked however, is the strong link between these two features of a healthy lifestyle. Yet, amounting evidence has shown that individuals who are able to get at least seven to eight hours of restful sleep, are more likely to consume a balanced diet and less likely to become overweight.

But there is more to the nutrition-sleep link than just coffee and caffeine. In fact, not only does nutrition affect our sleep, but also our sleep can affect our nutrition. Just think of the last time you stayed up late or had a poor nights sleep, chances are you found yourself craving extra savory foods the next day?

The reason for your increased appetite is found in the biology of your body, as both sleep and hunger cues are regulated by circadian rhythms (aka the biological clock). Hormones such as cortisol, insulin and ghrelin work together to decide when it is time to eat, sleep and play. The level of cortisol in our bodies at bedtime is a strong determinant of how restful our sleep will be. But when we eat foods high in sugar, we begin a chain of reactions that increases both insulin and cortisol levels; ultimately disrupting sleep. Unfortunately this lack of deep sleep causes our bodies to release ghrelin, the hormone that signals your body to crave those same sugary foods that started the cycle.

Getting out of this unhealthy cycle can be difficult. Here are a few nutrition tips for promoting sleep.

Calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6
Your body needs ample supply of calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6 in order to convert and absorb melatonin, your body’s sleep-inducing hormone.

  • Make sure to include enough of these nutrients in your daily diet from dairy, dark green vegetables and lean protein.

You can also find melatonin naturally in cherries, walnuts, tomatoes and rice. Consuming these foods in the evening hours can help promote sleep when included in a healthy diet plan.

Protein and Fiber
If you are hungry before bed, choose protein and fiber-rich foods that will stabilize your blood sugar overnight.

  • Protein and/or fiber rich snacks can include low-fat yogurt, nuts, whole grain cereal, popcorn, trail mix, whole grain crackers and low fat cheese sticks.
  • Dairy foods are a great choice, as the casein protein that they provide takes more time to digest and can regulate blood sugar all night long.

Caffeine can linger in our bodies for several hours. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after lunchtime.

While the nutrition-sleep link is clear, how to change our habits are less so. Many people need help taking those first steps to better health. Whether breaking a habit or simply designing a better diet and nutritional plan, a call to the counselors and dietitians at Capital EAP are a great place to begin!