Nature’s Lullaby for Quality Sleep
Try as we might to squeeze the most out of our days, our bodies need rest. Sufficient sleep is so important that just about every one of our biological processes and functions depends on a balanced day-night rhythm. And the same can be said for our diets! Not surprisingly, sleep and diet go hand-in-hand for maintaining our health ‘round-the-clock.
There’s a clear and complementary interplay between the quality of our diets and the quality of our sleep. Plenty of data show that poor diet has a negative impact on sleep quality, both in duration and depth. And on the flip side of the pillow, when nights are full of tossing and turning, it’s easy to make less-than-optimal food choices during the day.
At both the macronutrient (think carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micronutrient (aka vitamin and mineral) level, the food we eat supports and sustains healthy sleep. Eating a balanced diet provides adequate energy and the right building blocks for upholding a regular, restorative snooze schedule, which helps reset our bodies and minds for long-term wellness.
So what factors into deep, restorative rest? Experts tend to define healthy sleep by three key qualities:
- Sleep Latency – How long it takes to fall asleep when you go to bed
- Slow-Wave Sleep – The deepest phase of sleep, this is when physiological repair and growth take place
- Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) Sleep – The phase of a sleep cycle when memories are sorted and stored (which is why this is also when we dream!)
Ideally, we cycle through a few rounds of slow-wave and REM sleep, with shorter periods of deep sleep and increasing brain activity as we approach the morning. Full sleep cycling that includes every phase helps to restore our metabolic rhythms, build immune system resilience, and recalibrate our minds for better learning and emotional stability.
While age and environment can have a significant say on sleep efficiency, each ingredient in the recipe for rest is reliant on hormones and neurotransmitters, both of which are impacted by diet. Melatonin - and its precursors tryptophan and serotonin – and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are the primary regulators of helping us to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Ideally, our bodies start making melatonin when darkness falls, sending the signal to the rest of our bodies to wind things down. Melatonin also encourages deeper sleep by helping sync our sleep into regular cycles. Then, as the brain’s chief calming officer, GABA helps bring relaxation and calm by inhibiting the neural activity that can keep us alert and awake. GABA is key in maximizing the duration of slow-wave sleep, helping to ensure that our rest includes plenty of time for repair and renewal.
Hormones and neurotransmitters are highly influenced by all kinds of things: nature’s circadian rhythms, stress, certain dietary components (like sugar), eating patterns, blue light from screens, and even our immune systems. All these variables impact the production of both melatonin and GABA, the two regulators of rest that are imperative for quality sleep.
Several vitamins and minerals essential for synthesizing melatonin and GABA, as well as amino and fatty acids that build these neurochemicals and regulate our immune system, are derived only from the foods we eat. So not only can a high-quality and consistent diet set the right metabolic pace that supports sleep, it also provides antioxidants and other bioactive nutrients that prepare and keep us in the right state for rest.
Nature Knows Best When It Comes to Rest
There are a few shining stars when it comes to foods and herbs that can deepen our Zzz’s. Many of Earth’s healthiest provisions can help our bodies tune into nature’s lullaby.