How to Eat and Move for a Better Night’s Sleep
According to the CDC, nearly a third of employed adults in the U.S. average less than six hours of sleep per night – much less than the recommended seven to nine hours. And getting your eight hours isn’t just a “nice to have” on your wellness checklist; it’s essential for optimal health, since sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and stress.
So, how can you take your restorative sleep into your own hands? Say goodbye to counting sheep – and hello to eating and moving more mindfully for better sleep.
The best foods to eat for better sleep
In general, the best nutrients to eat for better sleep include calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and tryptophan. A protein-packed snack can also help your muscles repair and rebuild overnight. Just keep your pre-bed snack on the smaller side, so it doesn’t upset your stomach.
Almonds contain the perfect blend of potassium, B vitamins, and protein. Potassium can help your muscles relax and improve your quality of sleep, and B vitamins can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which interfere with sleep.
Not a fan of almonds? Swap in walnuts instead, which are high in tryptophan (a sleep-enhancing amino acid).
Cherries are packed with melatonin, a naturally-occuring sleep-regulating compound. Drinking tart cherry juice has been shown to increase melatonin production and improve sleep. Plus, cherries contain many anti-inflammatory properties, making them a perfect sleep-boosting snack if you’ve done a tough workout that day.
This soothing herbal drink has been used for centuries as a natural prescription for sleep issues – and it’s still effective today. Chamomile tea activates your GABA A receptors, and in doing so, helps stimulate sleep. Plus, brewing and sipping warm tea is a soothing ritual that can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.
How to exercise for better sleep
Both high- and low-intensity exercises can benefit your sleep quality. Strength training (like lifting weights, using resistance bands, and even bodyweight exercises) has been shown to improve sleep quality. Similarly, regular aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality and also reduce daytime sleepiness if you suffer from insomnia.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that you run a 5K and then immediately flop into bed. If you want to incorporate movement closer to your bedtime, opt for yoga or light stretching. Practicing yoga is linked to improved sleep quality, and similar to brewing tea, rolling out your yoga mat can be a calming evening ritual that slows down your nervous system. For a few simple yoga moves you can do every night before bed, try alternating among cat-cow, child’s pose, thread-the-needle, and a figure four stretch.
Regardless of what type of exercise you prefer, regular movement has been shown to lower your risk for anxiety and depression, which can lead to insomnia and disrupted sleep. Finding a movement routine that works for you is key to falling (and staying) asleep easily.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, these recommendations are a good start. However, the best foods and exercises for sleep are personal to your body and your lifestyle. Talk to your precision medicine care provider about your specific sleep issues. Then, your doctor will look at your genomics, your lab results, your medical history, and your lifestyle to create a personalized plan for better sleep. You’re not doomed to walk around like a zombie all day; with the help of a precision medicine plan, you can sleep like a baby.