The Food Connection: The Right Food at the Right Time

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The data showed that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar throughout the day was linked with participants getting lighter, less restorative sleep, with more awakenings throughout the night. Our circadian rhythms keep our body clock running on time, which in turn keeps all of our bodily functions running on schedule — such as falling asleep at night, waking up in the morning, feeling hungry when we need energy and metabolizing the food we eat.

Research shows poor sleep patterns have been linked to eating more overall, worse diet quality and higher rates of obesity and metabolic diseases.


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Your best bet when it comes to eating right for good sleep? Focus on general healthy eating guidelines — and not skipping or shifting meals too much, Krieger says. Caffeine makes us feel more alert by blocking production of the chemicals in the brain that tell our bodies to sleep — and increasing adrenaline.

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Alcohol has the effect of knocking you out pretty hard right away, so your body spends more time early in the night in the deep sleep stage than it otherwise might. But your sleep cycle rebounds and your brain tends to then keep you in the lighter sleep stages including rapid eye movement or REM sleep, when you dream the rest of the night.


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  • The result: you wake up feeling less rested after a night of heavy drinking or drinking too much too close to when you try to sleep than on nights you skip the libations. Giannopoulos suggests drinking in moderation and not drinking too close to bedtime. Save the Buffalo wings and the nachos with hot sauce for daytime tailgates in moderation! Heavy foods that are spicy or fatty are tougher for the stomach to digest than lighter ones like bananas or whole grains.

    Food Connection: The Right Food at the Right Time

    And indigestion before bedtime makes it harder for your body to relax and drift off to slip. Similarly, a large quantity of food eaten in a short period of time takes your body longer to digest and can be more taxing. But if you are looking for things that might be affecting your sleep quality, timing of meals is an important one to keep in mind.

    And particularly for people with acid reflux disease or other digestive problems, remember these effects may be exacerbated, she adds.

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    A growling stomach can definitely keep you awake, Giannopoulos says. But there are some foods for which it would make intuitive sense that they promote sleep — and some preliminary studies have been done that support the claims , she explains.


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    • Bananas, for example, contain serotonin, turkey contains tryptophan and berries contain some melatonin — which are some of the building blocks for the chemicals our brains need to make for sleep. There is some research that suggests individuals with insomnia did fall asleep faster after drinking tart cherry juice, which is high in melatonin and inflammatory cytokines, all of which are known to play a role in the sleep process.

      How What You Eat Affects Your Sleep

      Though the researchers who conducted that study point out that such an effect was not as great as results for other more thoroughly vetted insomnia treatments. Overall, limiting the sugar you eat — particularly added sugars — is well connected to better health. And watching the sweet stuff may help you sleep better , too, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

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      Nutritional psychiatrists like Dr. Ramsey prescribe antidepressants and other medications, where appropriate, and engage in talk therapy and other traditional forms of counseling. But they argue that fresh and nutritious food can be a potent addition to the mix of available therapies.

      Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food - Harvard Health Blog - Harvard Health Publishing

      Americans routinely change what they eat in order to lose weight, control their blood sugar levels and lower artery-clogging cholesterol. But Dr. Ramsey says that it is still rare for people to pay attention to the food needs of the most complex and energy-consuming organ in the body, the human brain.

      Eat for real change - Dr Joanna McMillan - TEDxMacquarieUniversity

      The patient Dr. Ramsey was seeing that day credits the nutritional guidance, including cutting down on many of the processed and fried foods and fatty meats that used to be part of his diet, with improving his mood and helping him overcome a long-term addiction to alcohol. Research on the impact of diet on mental functioning is relatively new, and food studies can be difficult to perform and hard to interpret, since so many factors go into what we eat and our general well-being.

      But a study of more than 12, Australians published in the American Journal of Public Health in found that individuals who increased the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that they ate reported that they were happier and more satisfied with their life than those whose diets remained the same. Another study of young adults from New Zealand and the United States showed higher levels of mental health and well-being for those who ate more fresh fruits and vegetables.

      Interestingly, the same benefits did not accrue to those who ate canned fruits and vegetables.

      One of the first randomized controlled trials to test whether dietary change may be effective in helping to treat depression was published in In the study, led by Felice Jacka, a psychiatric epidemiologist in Australia, participants who were coached to follow a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks reported improvements in mood and lower anxiety levels. Those who received general coaching showed no such benefits. A Mediterranean diet, rich in whole grains, legumes and seafood as well as nutrient-dense leafy vegetables that are high in the fiber, promotes a diverse population of helpful bacteria in the gut.

      Research suggests that a healthy gut microbiome may be important in the processing of neurotransmitters like serotonin that regulate mood. Such brain benefits may be protective against the onset of dementia, she said.