More and more people seem to be suffering from insomnia, which includes struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you’re one of these people, then you’re familiar with lying awake for hours watching the clock ticking down and trying everything you can to get a good night’s sleep.
Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can do more than just make you feel tired and irritable the next day – it’s been linked to low immunity, diabetes, memory problems, depression, weight gain, heart disease and even cancer (1).
Unfortunately, even though we should be sleeping more in the winter months, fewer daylight hours can play havoc with our circadian rhythm (the sleep/wake cycle) and worsen insomnia. The good news is there are several diet changes that you can make to encourage proper sleep. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 best nutrition tips to restore your sleep during the winter.
- Increase Your Vitamin D
Did you know that sub-optimal vitamin D levels could be affecting your sleep?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is made when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, the shorter days and lack of sun during the long winter months make vitamin D deficiency a common problem. Research has now found that low vitamin D levels are linked to lack of sleep and poor quality sleep (2).
Boost your vitamin D intake and improve your sleep this winter by increasing your consumption of foods like grass-fed butter, fish, eggs and fortified dairy products. You should also speak to your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements.
- Be Carb Smart
There is something about the cold winter days that makes us want to reach for processed comfort foods that are high in refined sugar. We all know that these foods aren’t healthy, and now a study by Columbia University has shown that eating high sugar foods and low amounts of fiber is associated with disrupted and poor quality sleep (3).
The good news is that you don’t need to avoid carbs altogether! Carbohydrates are super important for boosting the brain chemicals that promote sleep; you just need to eat the right ones. Focus on eating more complex carbohydrates that are rich in fiber such as fruit, oats, whole grain bread, rice, potatoes, yams, butternut, and pumpkin.
- Support Your Gut Bacteria
This might sound unbelievable, but our gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of microscopic bacteria - known as the gut microbiome. These bugs have a variety of important functions for our health and thanks to emerging research we know they may positively influence the quantity and quality of our sleep.
One reason for this could be that our healthy gut bacteria - also known as probiotic bacteria - contribute to the production of an amino acid called GABA (4). GABA encourages sleep by triggering the relaxation response, promoting calm and reducing anxiety.
One study of stressed-out students found that those who consumed daily probiotic drinks had better sleep and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who didn’t (5). So, if your insomnia is stress related then this is great news!
More research is needed in this field, but it’s promising that a healthier gut microbiome may help to restore our sleep.
Improve the health of your gut bacteria, and possibly your sleep, by eating foods with prebiotic fiber like asparagus, artichokes, leeks, bananas, oats, apples, legumes and whole grains. This type of fiber provides our gut bacteria with fuel so they can grow and breed (6). Winter is a great time to increase our consumption of these foods by making a warming and comforting vegetable soup.
You can also help your gut by consuming fermented foods and drinks that contain probiotics, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha.
- Consume More Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that form part of our body’s cell membranes. They have some amazing health benefits such as reducing inflammation and improving concentration, and yes you guessed it, sleep too!
Studies have shown that consuming omega-3-rich fish may improve our ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep that we get (7). Interestingly, an omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be especially important here as it stimulates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin (8).
Omega-3 fatty acids can’t be made in the body so they need to come from our diet. You can easily increase your intake by eating more oily fish, grass-fed dairy products, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
- Focus on Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for good health and, unsurprisingly, research has shown that people who supplement with magnesium sleep better (9). It may improve sleep by calming down the nervous system, reducing stress hormone levels, relaxing the muscles and increasing the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
If you’re struggling to get restorative sleep, focus on getting more of this amazing mineral. Consume more magnesium-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and take a good-quality magnesium supplement to help you get enough shut-eye.
Bonus Tip: Try NATURAL Sleep & Skin Tea
Many of us crave a comforting drink in the winter to keep warm. Unfortunately, we’re often tempted to reach for sleep-disrupting coffee or sugary hot cocoa. If you want to improve your sleep, a better option is a cup of NATURAL Sleep & Skin Tea. This delicious drink provides the body with a combination of botanicals, amino acids, and minerals (including magnesium) that help to promote calm and restore your sleep patterns to normal. It comes in two flavors, pineapple coconut and black cherry, and contains no caffeine, preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, or artificial sweeteners. And you don’t have to spend time making this tea; it’s already been made for you and is ready to drink!
Sleep is the time when our body rests and restores, so getting enough of it is important for good mental and physical health. Eating a wholesome diet and implementing some of the nutrition tips outlined here will go a long way toward restoring your sleep and helping you get the recommended 7-9 hours per night.
- Medic G, Wille M, Hemels M. (2017). Short and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/
- Gominak S & Stumpf W. (2012). The world epidemic of sleep disorders is linked to vitamin D deficiency. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583560
- St-Onge M et al. (2016). Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. Available at: http://jcsm.aasm.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30412
- Barrett E et al. (2012). γ-Aminobutyric acid production by culturable bacteria from the human intestine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22612585
- Kato-Kataoka A et al. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students under academic examination stress.Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26689231
- Carlson J et al. (2018). Health effects and sources of prebiotic dietary fiber. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041804/
- Del Brutto O et al. (2016). Dietary fish intake and sleep quality: a population-based study. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26847986
- Zaouali-Ajina M et al. (1999). Dietary Docosahexaenoic Acid-enriched phospholipids normalize urinary melatonin excretion in adult (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid-deficient rats. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10539787
- Abbasi B et al. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
About the Author: Maxwell Senu-Oke MD
Maxwell Senu-Oke is a board certified physician and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He specializes in community mental health and practices medicine in various under-served areas in the state of Virginia. He is an advocate of nutrition science and physical fitness and strives to reflect his philosophy and teaching of natural health in his lifestyle and daily routine.