Why Fruits and Veggies Could Be Nature’s Secret Cure for Sleep

Read a book, take a hot bath, maybe count the sheep – we all have our own ways of trying to sleep. However, these efforts are often unsuccessful.

Studies have found that around a third of people in the UK suffer from insomnia, which means they struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, and around two million people depend on sleeping pills.

But a growing body of research suggests there may be a simpler way to improve your sleep – and that is by improving what you eat.

While it has long been known that drinks and foods containing caffeine, a stimulant, may disrupt sleep, it appears that some food groups — including fruits, vegetables and even certain types of bread — may have the opposite effect.

A growing body of research suggests there may be a simpler way to improve your sleep – by improving what you eat

This finding was from a review of studies, recently published in the Annual Review of Nutrition.

“We found that eating a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes and dark greens,’ Marie-Pierre Saint-Ong, MD, associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York and one of the paper’s authors, told Good Health. Whole-grain bread has been linked to better sleep.

The review was based on other findings, including a study published in Nutrients in 2020 of 400 women, which found that the more they adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean protein, the more they slept. Quality improvement.

This study was self-reported, that is, the women themselves were recording their diet and sleep, but other scientists saw similar results.

In fact, after their own study, researchers from the University of Leeds, writing in BMJ Open in 2018, were so convinced of the link between diet and sleep that they said it could have ‘important implications for lifestyle and policy change behaviour’.

The research included 1,612 adults who had to write down their sleep patterns as well as their fruit and vegetable intake over four days. Those who slept less than seven hours a night had 24 grams less fruits and vegetables than those who slept seven to eight hours.

This study was self-reported, that is, the women themselves were observing their diet and sleep, but other scientists saw similar results.

This study was self-reported, that is, the women themselves were recording their diet and sleep, but other scientists saw similar results.

Moreover, while a healthy diet may benefit sleep, previous research by Dr. St-Onge and her team suggests that eating more saturated fat and sugar may upset her.

In a 2016 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 26 volunteers underwent polysomnography over five nights, with sophisticated monitoring equipment used to record brain waves and other vital signs that can determine the quality and quantity of sleep.

This type of analysis can determine, for example, how long people are in deep sleep and how often they wake up.

“The advantage of this study was that we could control their diet so we knew exactly what they were eating,” says Dr. St-Onge. So for the first four days, they followed a healthy diet, low in saturated fat and containing the recommended levels of fiber and sodium. [salt]. On the fifth day, they were able to choose what to eat themselves – that’s when we saw them eat much more saturated fat, salt, and sugar.

When the team analyzed the group’s sleep habits, they found some surprising differences.

“On the fifth day, it took them twice as long for them to sleep – 12 minutes longer – than on the previous days,” Dr. St-Onge told Good Health. They also spent less time in deep sleep, the most recovering phase of sleep.

This happens when brain waves slow down, allowing memories to be preserved, and when the pituitary gland pumps out the growth hormone needed to regenerate cells. The study found that volunteers got 24 minutes of this deep sleep on the fifth night, compared to 29 minutes on the days when they ate a better diet.

“This is a 15 percent reduction, which is a very large number,” says Dr. St-Onge.

From there, I went on to look at the specific foods they ate, and their effects, and was able to identify three main food groups that had a significant impact.

“Volunteers who ate more fiber spent less time in the light phase of sleep, and more time in deep sleep, while eating more saturated fat was associated with less slow wave,” she says. [deep] sleeping.

And the more sugar they had, the more excitement they experienced that night. We believe that in the case of drunkenness it leads to unstable blood sugar levels, which is what interrupts sleep.

Why is unknown, although an earlier study published in PLoS ONE in 2015, involving 63 patients with type 2 diabetes, also found that poor glycemic control is associated with poor sleep.

While sugar may be detrimental to sleep, there are “multiple components in plant foods that may be linked to better sleep,” says Dr. St-Onge.

Fiber is just one example. St-Onge’s research found that those who ate the most fiber-rich legumes — which include legumes like lentils and chickpeas — had the best “sleep efficiency” (in other words, the amount of time spent in bed when you’re already asleep).

St-Onge research has found that those who eat the most fiber-rich legumes that include legumes like lentils and chickpeas have the best sleep efficiency (in other words, the amount of time spent in bed when you're already asleep)

St-Onge’s research found that those who eat the most fiber-rich legumes – which include legumes like lentils and chickpeas – have the best ‘sleep efficiency’ (in other words, the amount of time spent in bed when you’re already asleep).

And when it comes to the Mediterranean-style diet in general, Dr. St-Onge suggests that the sleep benefits may derive from tryptophan – an amino acid the body uses (although it can’t produce itself) to produce the hormones melatonin, which helps We feel sleepy and serotonin which stabilizes our mood and also plays a role in sleep.

However, for tryptophan to take effect, tryptophan (found, for example, in turkey, fish, bananas, and seeds) must cross the blood-brain barrier, the semi-permeable cell wall that protects the brain from toxins.

In order to cross it, tryptophan must, in effect, bind to a “transporter” protein – but it can be pushed away by other amino acids waiting to cross. And at least one study concluded that “this limits the amount of serotonin that can be synthesized.”

“In the case of melatonin, your body is really good at producing it,” says Kevin Morgan, professor emeritus of psychology at Loughborough University, who has spent most of his career researching sleep.

“Sit in a bright light in the morning and you’ll start producing everything you need.”

Catherine Collins, an NHS dietitian based in Surrey, believes there is not enough evidence yet to recommend a single diet – or nutrients – as a way to improve sleep.

“The Mediterranean diet is the gold standard for diets, there’s no doubt about it,” she says. However, the studies done so far haven’t included enough people and haven’t been done long enough to make sure that certain components of them help sleep.

But, she says, the fact that the diet has anti-inflammatory effects “means that it may be beneficial to health in other ways, such as those with arthritis, for example, and may benefit sleep indirectly in the long run.”

She adds that the fact that it makes you feel fuller for longer may also be beneficial.

“Sleeping hungry won’t help you sleep, but the Mediterranean diet is very high in healthy fats, which gives it a low glycemic index and keeps you feeling full for longer.”

Professor Morgan believes that it is not what you eat but when you eat that is the key.

“Meal times are very valuable — it’s your circadian rhythm, which, as the name suggests, is the rhythm that runs your body clock,” he says.

– The guardian of regular sleep. If you can maintain a boring lifestyle – eating and sleeping at the same time every day – you will sleep well. But in my opinion, you can’t fix interrupted sleep by changing what you eat.

However, Dr. Saint Ong believes her research is promising. If we can find ways to simply improve the health of the population, I think it is worth pursuing.

As for her sleep? “I already have a healthy diet,” she says. “But when I wake up thinking ‘That was an exceptionally good sleep,’ I try to keep in mind what I did and it could have helped.

We often pay our attention to poor sleep, but a more positive approach can help.

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