Cover Learn how to optimise your diet for better sleep with these dietitian-approved tips (Photo: Getty Images)

With World Sleep Day 2021 fast approaching, we asked a registered dietitian for advice on how to make wise food choices for an optimal sleep-promoting diet

Any wellness expert will tell you getting quality sleep guarantees productivity, happiness, better skin and overall wellbeing. But how should you establish a healthy sleep routine during these stressful times, if you feel like you’ve tried everything, and it’s still not working? Well, you’re not alone. 

We have long turned to sleep supplements, scented candles or luxury beddings as remedies, but the truth is, they might not be able to prevent sleep disruptions and improve your sleep quality in the long term. To regain your ability to fall into a deep slumber, you’ll need to focus on the fundamentals of healthy living, learn to maintain a good work-life balance, build an effective exercise routine, and of course, adopting healthy eating habits

Below, registered dietitian Sally Shi-Po Poon shares tips on how to practice a sleep-promoting diet, what foods should we avoid and consume in the day and before bedtime. It's time to treat sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury. 

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Adjust your food intake before bed

Eating right before bedtime can be unhealthy and disrupt your sleep patterns, especially if it’s a heavy meal consists of high-calorie and spicy foods. That said, it’s not a good idea to go to bed hungry—an empty stomach will cause hunger pangs and making it more difficult to fall asleep. If you feel hungry and crave some snacks before bed, opt for something light and healthy such as fruits, low-fat yoghurt or milk. 

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Don’t consume excessive alcohol and caffeine

Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it can dehydrate you, impact your sleep negatively and leave you feeling fatigued the next day. You should also cut down on caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evenings, as caffeine will interfere with the process of falling asleep, keeping you tossing and turning at nights. Warm milk drinks or herbal teas could be the perfect drink alternatives and relaxants that can help to calm your nerves and promote restful sleep.  

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Eat foods with tryptophan

Previous studies have shown that tryptophan has a calming effect that will help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer. It's an essential amino acid, which is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, playing an important role in stabilising your mood and maintaining healthy sleeping patterns. You can obtain it from foods such as milk, turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, beans, peanuts, cheese, and leafy green vegetables. 

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Add more selenium and melatonin to your diet

Selenium is another amazing nutrient that can contribute to a better’s night sleep, which is also essential to metabolism and thyroid hormone production. In the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) published in a 2013 study by Journal of Sleep Research, researchers found that reduced selenium intake was associated with difficulty falling asleep—meaning adding more selenium-rich foods to your diet can be a great way to keep sleep interruptions at bay. This nutrient can be naturally obtained from meats, seafood, dairy products, grains and nuts. 
A lesser-known nutrient that can significantly help to promote sleep efficiency is melatonin. Research indicates that eating melatonin-rich foods can help to orient our circadian rhythm (i.e. the flow of hormones that tell us when to go to sleep and wake up), improve sleep quality and morning alertness. Higher content of melatonin can be obtained from eggs, fish, nuts and cereals than in meat. Germinated legumes, seeds and mushrooms are also top sources of melatonin.  

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Have some kiwifruits before bed 

Kiwis are one of the best sources of vitamins C and E that packed with beneficial effects on gastrointestinal function, but do you know that this small, delicious fruit can also help you sleep better and regulate your sleep cycle? A research study found that individuals who consumed two kiwifruits one hour before bedtime did fall asleep faster, slept more and experienced fewer sleep disturbances. Results also indicated that a high serotonin content in kiwifruit might be one of the possible factors contributing to the sleep-improving effects of kiwifruit. 

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