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Top Foods to Help you Sleep Better : The science behind sleep and weight loss

Here’s a simple hack to help you sleep better: Eat better. While caffeine and sugar are an obvious fail because they send your body contradictory signals as it’s trying to wind down, there are other foods that can help you catch those zzzzs faster.

In turn, sleeping well has a major role to play in maintaining weight as well well as helping you lose it. We spoke to two experts: nutritionist and diabetes educator Amrita Kotak (@reallife.dietitian on Instagram; Frise and Shine on YouTube) and Nyela Kapadia, founder of Workout With Nyela, and co-founder of Intermittent Fasting & Mindful Living on the best foods to eat to rest more soundly at night, plus the link between your weight loss diet, hormones and sleep.

Lastly, if you have issues with snoring, or sleep apnea, check out GQ’s guide to Breathing Better based on science journalist

Top Foods to Help you Sleep Better

Ideally, all these should be a couple of hours before bedtime, and not right before you’re about to hit the sack.

1. Milk

Milk contains tryptophan, calcium, vitamin D and melatonin, all of which promote sleep. Make sure you’re using a brand like Sarda and Pride of Cows that’s unadulterated, and hormone and preservative-free. A pinch of turmeric added to warm milk essentially transforms it into an elixir – since haldi aids in digestion, and has both anti-inflammatory and calming properties.

2. Almonds

Kapadia’s favourite sleep inducing food is “almonds or homemade almond milk since they contain high levels of melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle.” They are also repair foods, and since much of the body’s repair work happens at night, they provide a double benefit. Walnuts are also an option as they contain melatonin, serotonin as well as magnesium.

3. Bananas

Bananas are a hero food day or night. Loaded with essential minerals like iodine, they’re also rich in magnesium, potassium, tryptophan, vitamin B6 and fibre, all of which help you relax, keep you feeling full and stimulate sleep. Tart cherries and kiwis also contain high doses of melatonin, making them powerful sleep aids.

4. Chamomile Tea

Kapadia recommends chamomile tea for its nerve calming and sleep inducing properties thanks to a flavonoid called apigenin, which stimulates GABA A receptors that stimulate sleep.

5. Awsum’s “Sleep” Chocolate

Yes, we said no sugar, but give this new “functional chocolate” a try. Launched this year as its Delhi-based founders wanted to solve lifestyle issues they were facing and that were heightened during the lockdown – anxiety, daytime lethargy and disrupted sleep cycles – Awsum’s chocolates use Ayurvedic herbs to put you to bed. Infused with melatonin, and made with ingredients that include chamomile, ashwagandha, valerian root and passion flower.

The science behind sleep and weight loss

The role of ghrelin and leptin

Kapadia says that “insufficient sleep raises levels of ghrelin, a hormone that tells you to eat.” When you sleep late, you feel hungrier, leading to late night bingeing. Similarly, lack of proper sleep leads to reduced levels of leptin, which is secreted in fat cells and decreases hunger.

Repair and rebuilding work happens as you sleep

“Different hormones that are key to regulating fat loss and gain are released and suppressed at different stages of sleep, resulting in growth and repair work in the body. The most important ones are growth hormone and insulin which are responsible for building muscle and repair; and glucagon and cortisol, which are responsible for breaking things down. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and we can only sleep because less of it is secreted at night…. This is also why sleep more when we’re sick – because it allows the body to build and repair any damage.”

Lack of sleep affects your brain

When you’re sleep-deprived, your prefrontal cortex gets affected (which controls alertness, attention, decision making, and cognitive processes) and you tend to make poor decisions. When you’re tired, the brain’s reward centre also gets activated, making you crave sweets and high carb foods far more than when you’re well rested.

How to maintain sleep hygiene

Here are Kapadia’s top tips to get your sleep sked back on track

​​Eat an early and light dinner

The digestive system slows down post sunset. Heavy meals eaten late don’t break down easily in the body, affecting good sleep. A protein-rich dinner helps ensure you won’t get hungry later at night, even if you’ve eaten early.

Switch off and relax

Switch off all electronic devices at least half an hour prior to bedtime.

Release physical tension

Stretch your arms, stand on your toes and stretch upwards. Alternatively, use yoga poses like child’s pose and forward bends before finally moving into savasana.

Create a restful ambience

Use dim lights post sunset, and sleep in absolute darkness. A couple of times a week, sleep without an alarm clock and let your body decide how much rest it needs.

Soothe your senses

Deep breaths, aromatherapy, rose water eye pads and a bath before bedtime with few drops of lavender can all do the trick.

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