A lot of people are prioritizing their sleep hygiene these days. And that’s not a generalization or a temporary trend, it’s a statistical fact (according to a 2019 Philips Global Sleep Survey).
But getting good sleep doesn’t just happen by going to bed at a decent time. Or cultivating a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Or even optimizing your bedroom for some restful Z’s.
Of course, all of those things help, but there’s one essential element to optimizing sleep that so many people overlook: what they eat.
Say it with me: you aren’t what you eat, but what you eat does affect your sleep.
So, in preparation of launching (and celebrating!) the new MyFitnessPal Sleep feature, we chatted with Neurologist, Sleep Specialist and MyFitnessPal partner Dr. Chris Winter about the link between nutrition and sleep. Then, we raided his kitchen to get a real peek at how he fuels for a good night’s rest.
WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN
FOOD AND SLEEP?
FOOD AND SLEEP?
Imagine your body as a busy factory, and your food is the fuel that keeps it running. Just like a car needs the right kind of gas to work well, your body needs the right nutrients to function properly, including when it’s time to sleep.
“They’re two sides of the same coin,” explains Dr. Winter. “You can’t improve your sleep problem without looking at your diet. And you can’t improve your diet without looking at your sleep.”
Basically, what you eat throughout the day — and even more importantly for dinner (and nighttime snacks) — can have a direct impact on your sleep. Take, for example, hot wings. “Spicy proteins are hard to digest and can cause [an upset] stomach,” says Dr. Winter.
Sleep deprivation also influences eating choices.
“Our sleep-deprived bodies produce less of a chemical called leptin, which is essential for making us feel full,” explains Dr. Winter. “You know that sensation when your stomach feels full, but you can still eat a few crackers and feel satisfied? That’s leptin at work. When we have less of it, we don’t get that fullness signal as strongly, and we may continue eating even when we’ve had enough.
On the flip side, there’s another hormone called ghrelin, which increases when we’re sleep-deprived. Ghrelin makes us crave quick energy sources like carbs, fats, and simple sugars. This is why the snacks at a convenience store can look incredibly tempting when you’re not getting enough sleep.”
So, how should you eat for better sleep so that you can make even more nourishing food choices the following day? We raided Dr. Winter’s kitchen to find out.
11 FOOD AND DRINK STAPLES WE FOUND IN A SLEEP DOCTOR’S KITCHEN
Does it surprise you that coffee is a staple of Dr. Winter’s daily morning routine? “I don’t think it’s something that should be demonized. I think there’s a way to utilize it responsibly,” he says. The key word being “responsibly”.
Consider when you drink it. Caffeine’s effects can last longer than you might think. One study found that consuming a cup of coffee six hours before bed can still affect sleep, so the earlier in the day you drink in it, the better.
Dr. Winter reaches for a Fairlife salted caramel protein drink before hitting the gym or going for a run.
Protein drinks can help build and repair muscles and can help keep you feeling full, which might aid in weight management. Plus, it’s a convenient on-the-go option to support your daily protein needs and satisfy your taste buds with a touch of salted caramel flavor.
3. LIME SELTZERS
Dehydration impacts all things including your sleep. When you’re dehydrated, you tend to be more uncomfortable. That discomfort can lead to waking up in the middle of the night more than you want. And there’s nothing worse than looking at the clock and thinking, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get 3 more hours…”
Dr. Winter ensures he stays well hydrated with a zesty twist by including lime seltzers in his pantry.
4. GTS KOMBUCHA
GTS Kombucha is a fermented tea known for its probiotic superpowers. (I’m a real nerd for all things gut health.) Dr. Winter particularly likes the Island Bliss flavor and seasonal varieties like Living In Gratitude.
Kombucha can be an acquired taste but is a positive addition to anyone’s diet due to its benefits on gut health, which can influence weight management and sleep, too.
Always on the hunt for quick and protein-packed snack options, Dr. Winter loves Barbells Protein Bars. Protein bars in general are formulated to contain a higher amount of protein compared to regular snack bars, which makes them a popular choice for those looking to support muscle recovery, maintain a balanced diet, or curb hunger between meals.
6. PROTEIN POWDER
Speaking of protein, Dr. Winter stocks his pantry with protein powder for pre- and post-workout nutrition.
Fun fact: protein stabilizes your blood sugar and reduces your level of the hunger hormone grehlin (which we talked about before!). So, you feel fuller and more satisfied throughout the day — a very important factor when trying to achieve weight loss and management goals.
A proclaimed “guilty pleasure”, Dr. Winter eats Trader Joe’s Elote Corn Chip Dippers as a satisfying treat to balance his healthy choices.
8. TONS OF BEANS OF ALL KINDS
Beans are an excellent plant-based source of protein and full of fiber, which makes you feel full and prevents overeating. Plus, beans contain nutrients that support good sleep, like magnesium, which may relax your muscles and make it easier to fall asleep.
9. OVERNIGHT OATS
Dr. Winter loves this easy-to-prepare breakfast because it supports digestive health and provides sustained energy throughout the day. Plus, you’ve basically got endless flavor combinations to suit whatever your taste preferences are.
Try adding Dr. Winter’s go-to toppings to amp up the nutrition like frozen berries, chia seeds, chopped nuts, cocoa nibs, turmeric, ginger, or sliced banana.
10. ORGANIC OATS CEREAL
Don’t have time to prepare overnight oats? Reach for an oat cereal of some kind. They’re high in fiber, so will help you feel fuller longer. And the complex carbohydrates in oats can promote better sleep by helping to regulate blood sugar throughout the day.
11. SIGGI’S YOGURT
Siggi’s Yogurt contains protein, which can support muscle repair and growth, and having it as a bedtime snack can promote better sleep by preventing nighttime hunger and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Dr. Winter eats it as is, or throws the yogurt into a mid-day smoothie with Trader Joe’s smoothie packs.
So, looking to improve your nutrition and your sleep? Reach for these Dr. Winter-approved items and don’t forget to log them in the MyFitnessPal app. (Don’t have it? Download the app now on Android and iOs and even try a free 30-day Premium trial.)