Foods to help you Snooze
I've never identified much with fairy tale princesses. We can blame (thank) my feminist mother for that since Barbies, tutus, or anything that screamed Damsel in Distress was strictly off limits to me as a child. One princess that I can relate to, however, is the Princess and the Pea. Homegirl could not sleep because there was a pea under 20 mattresses and she could still feel it.
This supposedly revealed her ludicrous sensitivity, but that scenario sounds totally plausible to me. My room needs to be 100% dark, white noise machine on, bedtime at the same time every night, no screens or lights before bed, and maybe--just maybe--I'll get a decent few hours of sleep. Mess with one part of the system and the whole thing falls apart.
I realize not everyone struggles with sleep, however, many of my students ask me about how to get better energy from their food and not feel sleepy, weak, or tired throughout the day. And one of my (painfully obvious) tips is that is starts with better sleep! You can have all the superfoods and endurance supplements that money can buy, but if you aren't getting your solid block of sleep every night, you'll never be as energized as possible during the day.
So today I want to share 7 simple foods that you can add to your diet to optimize your sleep and daytime energy. Much of sleep hygiene has to do with environmental or lifestyle habits like exercising in the morning, avoiding screens before bed, and going to sleep at the same time every night. However, some simple foods swaps can help your body have the essential nutrients it needs for good sleep and energy too.
7 foods to help you sleep:
1. Sub tart cherry juice for your evening soda, cocktail, or sparkling water.
Tart cherry juice has become popular in recent years because a few studies have linked in to helping with insomnia. Tart cherries are a natural source of the hormone melatonin which our bodies naturally produce to help us sleep. Be sure to get unsweetened pure tart cherry juice. If you want to dilute it, try adding a couple ounces of the juice to plain water or DIY your own Sleepytime LaCroix by topping the juice with plain, sparkling mineral water. Alcohol should be avoided before bedtime because it inhibits the quality of sleep that you get (even when you think that it's helping you fall asleep faster).
2. Sub teas for your morning coffee. Or at least your afternoon coffee.
More than pretty much any substance we regularly consume, caffeine has the ability to disrupt our sleep, even hours and hours after drinking it. A few nights of poor sleep will have you reaching for the coffee cup even more the next morning, creating a tough cycle to break. Caffeine also triggers an adrenaline release than can leave you feeling more fatigued when it wears off. Can't bear the thought of breaking up with caffeine for good? Try a lower caffeine option for your morning beverage like black or green tea or one of the options mentioned in my coffee substitution post.
3. Sub Veggie Noodles for a Traditional Pasta Dinner
While simple carbs can help with sleep when eaten before bed (hello carby food coma), for your overall health, you don't want to overdo it on refined carbs or sugar. Especially if you eat too much before bedtime, you may find yourself with too much energy to burn at the wrong time of day. So skip a heaping portion of pasta and instead bust out the spiralizer to make veggie noodles! While still high in carbohydrates, vegetables like zucchini, sweet potatoes and beets are more complex (meaning they digest more slowly) and also contain other diverse nutrients.
Also, to me, veggie noodles are self-limiting. I'm never going to eat as much of them as I would of regular white pasta. Being too full can also inhibit your sleep or trigger other sleep-disrupting issues like heartburn. Try Zucchini Noodle Pad Thai (pictured above and featured in my Go! Improving Energy class) or Sweet Potato Noodles with Chickpeas and Greens.
4. Sub kale chips or crispy chickpeas for an afternoon snack of chips, crackers or pretzels.
Simple carbs mid-day can make you sleepier when you don't want to be. This afternoon lull can trigger other bad habits like overeating or more caffeine that can keep you up at night. Instead of crackers or pretzels, try more nutrient diverse snacks like kale chips or Crispy Chickpeas. Iron deficiency is one possible cause of low energy during the day and both kale and chickpeas are good sources of iron. Any suspected nutrient deficiency should be confirmed by a doctor who can give personalized recommendations on appropriate dietary changes (different types of nutrients like iron are found in animal foods v plant-based foods) as well as supplementation. Other nutrient deficiencies sometimes associated with low energy are Vitamin D and B Vitamins.
5. Sub almonds or pumpkin seeds for the unhealthy late night snack
The typical late night snack--at least in my house--seems to be whatever you can get your hands on that doesn't require cooking. Bread, cheese, crackers, it's all fair game. "A handful of nuts!" is the annoyingly quintessential nutritionist snack recommendation, but before bedtime it's actually a pretty good idea.. All nuts contain tryptophan, a precursor to the sleep-inducing hormone seratonin and almonds, along with pumpkin seeds also contain about 20% of your RDA of magnesium, a nutrient essential for muscle relaxation. Plus, no cooking involved! If you can't stand them plain, spice up nuts and seeds with a spice blend.
6. Sub oatmeal for cereal for your morning meal.
It's hard to think about bedtime at breakfast, but our overall diet affects our sleep, not just what we eat right before bed. Sluggish digestion can leave you feeling tired and uncomfortable throughout the day instead of energized, as well as feeling overly full at night. Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber which helps regulate digestion and blood sugar. Other whole foods options like eggs and greens or a baked sweet potato with nuts and a coconut milk drizzle can also provide fiber for better digestion.
7. Sub Sriracha at lunch for Sriracha at dinner.
Spicy and acidic foods like tomato sauce can trigger heartburn or acid reflux in some people. I've never personally experienced heartburn, but from what I've heard it can be quite unpleasant and certainly enough reason to keep you up at night. Pay attention to your individual triggers, but try having your spicy fix earlier in the day and not at your evening meal to avoid late night heartburn. Laying down causes the excess stomach acid to rise in your esophagus, so consuming these foods much earlier in the day may be a simple solution.