How to balance your plate, to balance your sleep

Specific Health Concern 10 July 2017

Just like diet or physical activity, sleep is an essential aspect of our health and well-being. Sleep is involved in the functioning and balance of the body on many levels: hormonal, metabolic, physical, psychological, etc. We recommend 4 simple steps to help you learn to balance your plate in order to balance your sleep!

1st stage: Before changing your diet, you need to ask yourself some questions:

Do I sleep in an atmosphere that encourages me to feel tired and sleepy?

A completely dark room that is aired daily and is around 18°C to 22°C in temperature, without any power plugs or Wi-Fi connection, is the perfect condition for a good night’s sleep.

Do I use screens (television, smartphone, computer or tablet) before I go to bed?

Blue light emitted from screens seriously slows down the sleeping process by disrupting your biological clock (the sleep-wake cycle). Try to substitute these screens for a pre-bedtime ritual combining stretching, relaxation and reading.

Do I drink tea or energy drinks within the 6 hours before I go to bed?

If yes, replace them with relaxing herbal teas that help you to fall asleep like valerian root, lime-flower, hawthorn or vervain tea. They can be consumed as hot drinks or as cold drinks in the summer.

Do I eat a hearty evening meal? Is it the most important meal of the day?

A light meal at dinner time, without any cooked fatty substances, sauces, alcohol or processed foods will improve your digestion and sleep. It is advisable to dine 2 to 3 hours before going to bed with a focus on raw and unprocessed foods.

2nd stage: Stimulate your natural synthesis of melatonin:

Melatonin is the famous sleep hormone. At brain level, melatonin is synthesised in the absence of light thanks to a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This is why surroundings that are conducive to sleep without lights or screens are important. This serotonin is produced from essential tryptophan (amino acid found in proteins), and since the body cannot produce it, our only resource is therefore found in our food.

In short, to stimulate your natural synthesis of melatonin and improve your sleep, add foods that contain tryptophan to your meals, especially your dinner.

Good plant sources of tryptophan:  legumes, oatmeal, wholegrain rice, barley, oilseeds and grains (gourd, walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios), bananas, dates, mangos, soya, sweet potatoes and persillade.

Good animal sources of tryptophan: eggs, fish (cod, tuna, herring and mackerel), dairy products (parmesan and ricotta) and meats.  

3rd stage: Add sugar to make the tryptophan pass through the brain:

When our glycemic index (the amount of sugar in the blood) increases, a hormone called insulin is sent to the blood to make it decrease again. This natural regulation allows tryptophan to pass to the brain. Without added sugar, the tryptophan remains blocked on the outside and the following reaction:  Tryptophan -> Serotonin -> Melatonin is completely stopped.

By consuming sugary foods at dinner time at the same time as protein containing tryptophan, the latter passes through the brain and becomes serotonin and then melatonin.

Good sources of sugar: seasonal fruits and legumes, wholemeal cereal products, honey and hive produce and dark chocolate (70% cacao).

4th stage: What impact does your dinner have on your quality of sleep?

To understand your own sleep-food pattern, take time to note down on a piece of paper your food intake before you go to sleep.

When you wake up, write beside it a number between 0 and 10 (10 being sleeplessness and a perfect sleep). This record allows you to read and identify the meals that improve or do not improve your nights of sleep. Based on the results, it will be easy to add or remove those foods that stimulate your sleep.


Now it’s your go!