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Trying to get more shut-eye? You’re not alone. More than a third of Americans don’t sleep enough, according to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Sleep is fickle, especially with the ongoing pandemic and political turmoil, sleep might feel more elusive than ever, even though a good night’s rest is essential to overall health and performance.
Beyond feeling beat down, insomnia tendencies can spiral into health problems, including heart disease. And by messing around with your appetite hormones, research shows that inadequate sleep—less than seven hours nightly—can lead to poor dietary choices, like an increased tendency towards sugary snacks.
And these days, sleep hygiene is likely as much of a topic in the peloton as where to snag the best cappuccino. That’s because sleep has become widely recognized as playing a vital part in the exercise performance equation (alongside diet and training).
The reality is that athletes need more high-quality sleep for better workout recovery, improved mental task performance (hello, navigating gnarly trails), and to keep that immune system firing on all cylinders.
So, with all this said, you must do what you can to get the most out of each night. This includes not only avoiding the news cycle in the wee hours, but also making smart food choices from morning to night.
Struggling to fall (or stay) asleep? Then be sure you’ve had your fill of these snooze-inducers before hitting the hay.
If you’re tossing and turning, consider serving beans instead of beef for dinner more often. Research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine discovered that noshing on a diet rich in dietary fiber may help us spend more time in slow-wave sleep, a stage of deep sleep that is considered particularly restorative to the body and necessary for better brain functioning, including memory during waking hours. In contrast, the researchers found that when people ate less fiber and more saturated fat, they spent less time in slow-wave sleep and were prone to more sleep-disturbing arousals.
It could be that the better blood sugar control that comes with eating more fiber and less sugar improves sleep quality and results in less time staring at the ceiling. By acting as a prebiotic (food for the bacteria in your gut), fiber can also cause an uptick in bacterial- produced compounds, like short-chain fatty acids, that signal the brain in a way that may improve sleep. In addition to beans, you can sneak in more fiber via lentils, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Tart Cherry Juice
Time to pucker up. A handful of studies (including this one and this one) suggest that sipping tart cherry juice can improve sleep quality and duration. The ruby juice is one of the best natural sources of melatonin. The pineal gland begins to produce the hormone melatonin and releases it into the blood post-sunset, which helps your body maintain its circadian rhythm and causes you to feel less alert and more sleepy. So tart cherries can give you an extra melatonin boost to help knock you out. (As a bonus, the abundance of anthocyanin antioxidants in the juice have been studied for helping athletes bounce back faster from hard workouts.)
As nighttime temperatures begin to dip, you may not have an appetite for a glass of cold juice, so try this nightcap: Whisk together 1 cup tart cherry juice, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a small saucepan; heat over medium heat until steamy. Look for brands that are made with 100 percent cherry juice and not diluted with cheap fillers like apple juice.
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Riding in a zombie-like state? Consider casting your line for salmon more often for dinner to help knock you out faster. Research hailing from Norway discovered that people who consumed salmon three times a week for a six-month period experienced improved sleep latency—which is the length of time that it takes to go from being awake to being in a deep sleep—than those who got more of their protein from chicken, beef, or pork. Another study in Scientific Reports, found that children who eat fish at least once a week sleep better than those who consume fish less frequently or not at all.
The dynamic duo of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in the swimmer may make it a great dinner choice for promoting improved sleep. For instance, omega-3 fats are known to help lessen inflammation, which is associated with higher levels of sleep disturbances. And, a study linked higher blood levels of DHA—one of the omega-3s present in —with increased sleep duration in adolescents, which may also be the case for adults. Other fatty fish, such as sardines, rainbow trout, and arctic char could also be sleep boosters.
Not all nighttime snacks are created equal when it comes to helping you sleep like a baby. One of the better options appears to be this fuzzy fruit. Researchers found that eating two kiwi fruit an hour before bed for a month may help those who struggle with sleep problems improve sleep onset and better maintain a sustained slumber. It is not clear exactly how the fruit can help promote better sleep, but one explanation is that kiwis contain serotonin, a brain compound that regulates the sleep cycle. It’s sky-high levels of vitamin C may also have an impact. But we still need more research on why kiwi, and perhaps other fruit, can help us doze off.
Say “open sesame” to more tryptophan. These seeds are one of the better sources of this amino acid, which our bodies use to synthesize serotonin and melatonin—two hormones that are vital for regulating sleep patterns. For an end-of-day tryptophan hit, you can sprinkle sesame seeds on salads, soups, steamed or roasted vegetables, cooked grains, and stir-fry recipes. You can also add more tryptophan to your diet via pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, tuna, mozzarella, and, yes, turkey.
Carb-loading can not only power your rides, but it may also stamp your express ticket to dreamland. A study by scientists in Brazil found that a carbohydrate-rich meal at night may help increase sleep duration. How? It appears the carbs in items like sweet potato can help shuttle the amino acid tryptophan into the brain, where it’s used to make the calming compound serotonin to encourage better shuteye. More reason to be sweet on the orange spud: It’s a good source of vitamin B6, a nutrient that is necessary to help with the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice can also give your dinner a needed boost of sleep-inducing quality carbohydrates.
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