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Foods That Help You Sleep: Menopause

This week we will be discussing foods that help you sleep during menopause. We all know the importance of a healthy diet, but sleep is also an important contributing factor toward overall good health. To learn more about nutrition and menopause, read our blog post here.

1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep, with factors such as stress and technology often identified as the cause of sleepless nights. However, research has also shown that poor sleep is a symptom of menopause. Sleep duration and quality are disrupted [1]. 

Foods That Help You Sleep

Lycopene

Lycopene is a carotenoid, found in red and orange-coloured foods. Examples include watermelon, tomatoes, apricots, and cranberries. It is an organic pigment that gives these foods their colour and is an antioxidant. A lycopene-rich diet has been positively associated with increased sleep duration [2].

Vitamin C and Selenium

Both vitamin C and selenium are nutrients that have been associated with sleep. Vitamin C can be found in foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli. Selenium is found in meat, wholegrains, dairy products, eggs, and Brazil nuts.

One study found that low intakes of both vitamin C and selenium were found to be associated with short sleep duration of between 5 and 6 hours [3]. This was supported by another study that found that individuals with adequate sleep duration (7-8 hours) had sufficient vitamin C levels [4].

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral found in green leafy vegetables, bananas, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole-grains. One study reviewed the current literature available regarding the role of magnesium in sleep health. It found a positive association between magnesium intake and sleep quality, including less daytime sleepiness, less snoring, and increased sleep duration, in a review of 9 studies [5].

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is found in foods such as tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, chickpeas, poultry, dark leafy greens, and bananas. Some studies have identified vitamin B6’s ability to promote the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep [6]. This means consuming adequate amounts of B6 can help us get to sleep.

Calcium

A number of foods contain calcium including dairy products, green leafy vegetables, bread made with fortified flour, and soya drinks with added calcium. You may have heard people recommending a mug of warm milk before bed, a great source of calcium. This is because calcium has been found to be effective in reducing stress, meaning that you can be more relaxed before going to sleep [7].

Complex Carbohydrates and Protein

If you do need to eat before bed, it is better to eat a source of complex carbohydrates and protein. This is because protein helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevents insulin spikes, which contradict the action of melatonin. Additionally, complex carbohydrates do not cause insulin spikes, unlike sugary carbohydrates, and they help to increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used to make serotonin and melatonin. These two hormones induce sleep [8].

Sources of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, brown rice, wholewheat bread, wholewheat pasta, beans, and peas. Sources of protein include grains, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.

Foods to Avoid

In terms of foods to avoid for improved sleep, it is recommended to avoid drinking caffeine, as caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and interferes with circadian melatonin rhythms. Adenosine is a chemical that promotes sleep, so when adenosine receptors become blocked, we feel more alert rather than sleepy. The quality and onset of sleep can be affected by caffeine intake.

If you do choose to consume caffeine, it is suggested that you should do this earlier in the day. This is as the amount of time it takes for your body to process half of the caffeine ingested is around 4-6 hours. Some examples of foods containing caffeine are [9]:

  • tea
  • coffee
  • fizzy drinks
  • cacao

Another suggestion would be to stop eating around 2 hours before bedtime. This is because when we eat our bodies produce insulin which suppresses melatonin, a chemical that promotes sleep. It is also important to ensure that meals before bedtime are not very high in carbohydrates as a significant trend between worse sleep quality and increasing carbohydrate intake has been reported, particularly with frequent consumption of energy drinks and fizzy drinks [10]. Therefore, a high carbohydrate intake can increase the number of times you wake up during the night and decrease the amount of deep sleep that you get [11]. 

Summary

In summary, nutrition can be a useful tool to promote sleep. Ensuring that you consume adequate amounts of foods containing lycopene, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and calcium, can help to improve overall sleep quality, a common concern during menopause. If you do need to eat before bed, you should opt for complex carbohydrates and protein, over sugary carbohydrates, to prevent spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

Caroline Hill Dietitian
Caroline Hill Dietitian and owner of Caroline Hill Nutrition

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