Something that might not be foremost in your mind when it comes to optimal mental health, physical health and performance is sleep. According to the CDC, adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing.
Practices and habits that can aid in healthy sleep include regular exercise, avoiding sugar and alcohol before bedtime, avoiding caffeine at least six hours before bedtime, avoiding saturated and trans fat before bedtime (animal products or fried foods), making your sleep surroundings your sanctuary, and creating a routine. Establishing a nighttime meditation practice and not using electronic devices one to two hours before bedtime may also help.
Plant-Based Diets Can Help
Plant-based diets are high in complex carbohydrates, including fiber and isoflavones (phytonutrients, a.k.a nutrients found in plants), which may help with quality sleep. Plant-based foods can also be sources of tryptophan and melatonin, which are known to aid in good sleep hygiene. Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin production, two neurotransmitters that regulate sleep.
One study found that eating inadequate fiber and more saturated fat and sugar was associated with lighter, less restorative, and more disrupted sleep in 13 women and 13 men, all normal weight and an average age of 35 years old. Results show that greater fiber intake predicted more time spent in the stage of deep, slow-wave sleep. In contrast, a higher percentage of energy from saturated fat predicted less slow-wave sleep. Greater sugar intake also was associated with more arousals from sleep. Carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and oatmeal can stimulate the release of serotonin, which can help you doze off and sleep well throughout the night.
Another study looked at the sleep quality and duration in 106 women, ages 20-75 years, and found that those who ate the most plant-based protein had better sleep quality and significantly longer sleep duration than those who ate animal protein. A Japanese study looked at the isoflavone intake of 1076 women aged 20-78 and found that the higher the isoflavone content the better the sleep quality and longer sleep duration. Plant-based protein sources can be rich in isoflavones (phytonutrients). These foods are also rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin and melatonin.
Foods high in isoflavones include:
- Organic soy
- Soy milk
- Lentils beans
- Peanuts and other nuts
Those containing tryptophan include all of the above, plus:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sea veggies
- Leafy greens
- Oat bran
All of these foods are also sources of fiber.
Plant-based foods high in melatonin include:
- Nuts (pistachios being one of the best sources)
- Tart cherries
- Sweet cherries
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
Of note, many of the foods above are also good sources of magnesium, a mineral that’s been shown to help the body relax and promote restful sleep.
A final potential mechanism by which plant-based diets could influence sleep quality is via improvements in body composition. Normal waist circumference, BMI (body mass index) and body fat can reduce the risk of sleep apnea disorders.
Eating a whole food plant-based diet can help with weight management and support serotonin and melatonin production, potentially enhancing sleep quality and duration. If you find yourself wanting a late-night snack but don’t want that snack to interfere with your sleep, choose high fiber, isoflavone-rich, and tryptophan or melatonin-containing foods to help with a good night’s sleep.
Examples of late-night snacks that are packed with fiber and nutrients to help you sleep better:
- A small bowl of oatmeal with organic unsweetened soy milk and strawberries
- A handful of pistachios and cherries
- Homemade granola with pistachios, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
- Small kale salad with walnuts and lentils
- Plant-based, no sugar added yogurt with berries or kiwi
Excerpted from the original article which can be viewed in its entirety at Purely Planted.
Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN, has been a registered dietitian nutritionist for 25 years, specializing in heart disease, diabetes, sports nutrition and women’s health. For the past ten years, she has focused on plant-based lifestyles through inspiring and educating people about plant-based eating to optimize their health and the health of the planet. Nichole has been featured in Eating Well, Business Insider and Atlanta Journal Constitution. She is also a media spokesperson for The Weather Channel and local Atlanta television networks. A former triathlete and current yoga instructor, she shares her passion through her website Purely Planted. Nichole is the author of The Fiber Effect. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband.