What to Eat If You Have Trouble Sleeping to Get Your Body Back on Track

You probably know the usual tricks for falling asleep fast, like sipping calming tea, powering down your electronics at least an hour before bed, or taking a steamy shower. But what about when all the usual tricks fail? You could be overlooking one of the most important factors of getting adequate sleep: your diet. What to eat if you're having trouble sleeping can have a real impact on your lifestyle, and experts say there's clear evidence to back up those claims.

In a 2016 article published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that a consistent eating pattern of too little fiber (along with too much sugar and saturated fat) could lead to more disrupted sleep. Another 2018 study published by the University of Arizona suggests that late-night snacking could leave you feeling desperate for more hours of shut-eye. 

To get a healthy food prescription for what you should be eating to get restful sleep, DoctorOz.com spoke with clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Breus (aka The Sleep Doctor). Along with Katherine Brooking, M.S., R.D. and Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., (founders of Appetite for Health), Dr. Breus highlights the five vitamins that play an essential role in our ability to get quality Zs and offers ways to incorporate them into your diet.

Vitamin D: Egg Yolks, Fatty Fish, and Yogurt

“We know that diet and sleep are deeply connected, but the truth is, we don’t know nearly enough yet about how individual nutrients impact our sleep,” says Dr, Breus. He points to multiple studies that have discovered a possible link between low vitamin D (which is sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin) levels and sleep issues, including short sleep duration, lack of sleep, and the risk of developing sleep apnea, as well as the severity of sleep apnea. Plus, this fat-soluble vitamin may regulate two genes that affect our circadian clocks. “Sunlight is also our single best source of vitamin D, and it looks as though it may be a part of the mechanism by which sunlight keeps our bio clocks — and our daily sleep cycles — running in sync,” Dr. Breus states.

Food Rx: Brooking says egg yolks, fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, swordfish, and sardines), and foods that are fortified with vitamin D (such as many milks, yogurts, cereals, and citrus juices) provide healthy doses of vitamin D. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily vitamin D intake of 600IU for adults, ages 19-50. Since a few studies indicate that some people may benefit from higher intakes, Brooking advises checking with your doctor or registered dietitian to know the amount that best suits your nutritional needs. 

Vitamin E: Nuts, Seeds, and Canola Oil

If you’re one of the estimated 25 million adults in the U.S. who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, boosting your intake of this nutrient (as well as other antioxidants) may improve nighttime breathing and sleep quality, according to Dr. Breus. And while lack of slumber have been shown to decrease testosterone levels in men, maintaining healthy levels of vitamin E may help combat this reaction. 

Food Rx: Wheat germ, nuts and seeds, and plant-based oils (like canola, sunflower, canola, walnut, and almond oil) are among the highest sources of vitamin E, says Upton. Leafy green vegetables and fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) also offer substantial amounts of this vitamin. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin E (RDA) for adults is 15mg.

Vitamin C: Berries, Bell Peppers, and Cauliflower

Along with improving sleep quality in people with sleep apnea (part of a mixture with vitamin E), too little of this antioxidant can lead to fewer hours in dreamland. “Lower levels of vitamin C as measured in blood were also linked to more nightly sleep disturbance and a greater risk for sleep disorders,” says Dr. Breus. 

Food Rx: “The best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, and spinach, as well as other leafy greens,” says Upton. The RDA for vitamin C is 75mg per day for women and 90mg a day for men. 

Vitamin B6: Fish, Beef, and Starchy Vegetables

This water-soluble vitamin boosts the production of two vital hormones that are necessary in regulating sleep and mood — melatonin and serotonin. Also, Dr. Breus explains that a lack of vitamin B6 has been shown to increase symptoms of insomnia and depression — a significant finding since there’s also a connection between depression and sleep disorders. And if you’re hoping to remember your dreams in the morning, vitamin B6 may actually help with that as well. 

Brooking adds that vitamin B6 converts a small amount of tryptophan — an essential amino acid that supports the nervous system, which in turn, brings about relaxation and sleep — to niacin (also known as vitamin B3) and serotonin. “By failing to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin B6 in your diet, your body's metabolism of tryptophan may be disturbed,” she states. 

Food Rx: The richest sources of vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver and other organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruit (other than citrus), says Brooking. The RDA for Vitamin B6 is 1.3mg. 

Vitamin B12: Fortified Breakfast Cereal, Fish, and Eggs

While both Dr. Breus and Brooking say the evidence linking this B vitamin to sleep isn’t exactly clear, there is some indication that it affects shut-eye. Some experts say that vitamin B12 regulates the sleep-wake cycle (Dr. Breus explains that it keeps cardiac rhythms in sync), and Brooking adds that insomnia and depression may go hand-in-hand. 

Food Rx: Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. “It’s generally not present in plant foods, but fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12 with high bioavailability for vegetarians,” says Brooking. The recommended level of B12 for adults is 2.4mcg. 

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