Best diet for a better night’s sleep

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Inability to sleep affects many of us, but if tossing and turning in the early hours is your nightly ritual, it might be time to look at what’s going in your shopping trolley.

A new research review has found that our diet could have a big impact on how well we sleep at night. It revealed a restful slumber may come down to eating the right types of carbohydrates and fats.

What did the science show?

People who ate more quality carbohydrates and good fats slept well. Quality carbs are fruit, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains, or minimally processed, lower sugar foods made from these ingredients. They are also known as complex carbohydrates, and they are higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Higher fibre foods and anti-inflammatory foods were linked to a better slumber as well. This includes plenty of plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. The researchers found people who had higher fibre diets had a longer and deeper night’s sleep. 

On the flip side, people who consumed a lot of highly processed carbohydrates or sugary foods and drinks were more likely to have overall poorer quality sleep. 

When it came to protein it was all about getting the amount right. Science supported the fact that diets higher in protein (without being “high protein”) were associated with a better night’s sleep. These diets included about the same amount of protein as our guidelines recommended—46g a day for women and 56g for men.

So, why does diet affect the quality of sleep?

While more research is needed, the authors of this review commented that plant-based diets helped the body produce more serotonin and melatonin—two hormones essential for sleep.

They also pointed to the gut-brain-axis: the link between the gut and the brain. Plenty of fibre and good fats are important for a healthy gut microbiome, as they help to nurture a wide variety of gut bacteria. Emerging research has linked a healthy gut microbiome with a longer, less disrupted sleep.

Aiming for a diet with plenty of plant foods and good fats, as well as less saturated fat and sugar, is a good starting point to help you feel better and sleep well too. A Mediterranean-style diet is an ideal starting point.

Here’s some simple shopping swaps

  • Switch white bread for delicious grainy loaves.
  • Grab a can of beans like four bean mix or kidney beans. They’re always a handy pantry staple to help bump up the fibre and protein of a meal.
  • Make sure you have brekkie. Shop for a wholegrain or high-fibre cereal to start the day right with quality carbs. 
  • Stick to canola oil or olive oil for cooking and avoid butter or coconut oil. 
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