Sleep is a BIG lifestyle pillar. As a dietitian and nutritionist, it is something I cover a lot with clients in my virtual private practice.
While sleep isn’t specifically ‘diet based’, sleep quality impacts more than hunger cues with dysfunctional circadian rhythms (sleep pattern) shown to impact female reproductive hormone secretion, which impacts fertility, pregnancy and menstruation. This relationship is bidirectional, with reproductive hormones also impacting sleep. So finding your sleep sweet spot is pretty important.
Now before I launch into food (which is my wheelhouse as a dietitian), I need to remind you that there are many other crucial lifestyle modifications which can be made like going to bed earlier, removing screens from your evening routine, reducing alcohol intake and so forth. However, modern life doesn’t make it easy to get quality sleep. Busy schedules, work emails, shift work, phones, social lives and media, Netflix, life admin (my nemesis) and stress are huge barriers to sufficient sleep. Life is hectic. But here a few nutrition tips you can try alongside other lifestyle modifications.
This is your sleepy hormone. It is produced in response to darkness -this is why late night screens are bad as light exposure can block its production-. Once assumed only to be produced in animals (including us humans), studies have found melatonin in plants, making them good dietary source too.
Evidence suggests a good intake of dietary melatonin can improve serum levels (the amount in your blood). Research looking at qualities is food is limited, but one study in particular found: eggs, salmon, breastmilk (cool fact: higher concentrations found in milk made in the evening), grains such as rice, barley, wheat and oats, most fruits (cherries, grapes and strawberries containing higher amounts), most veggies (so eat more, and all of your vegetables), nuts, seeds and legumes were all good sources.
Now i’m not suggesting you go and stock your shelf with protein powders (which could be packed with caffeine and defeat the purpose of my ‘food for sleep’ goal). But getting adequate protein has been shown to improve sleep.
The research is a little mixed here, but tryptophan (an amino acid) found in protein foods is a precursor for melatonin (the sleepy-time hormone we just talked about above). But protein is also a satisfying food and may reduce snacking, which evidence suggests can inhibit quality sleep. Suffice to say, ensuring you get the recommended daily amount of protein may help improve how you sleep.
Good dietary protein sources of tryptophan include turkey, tofu, milk, salmon, nuts and seeds. I would strongly encourage you to speak to a prenatal dietitian if you are drastically alternating your protein intake before, during or after pregnancy.
The relationship here is not 100% clear, however research has found people with low serum (blood) vitamin D experience poorer sleep quality, duration and have higher rates of nocturnal waking (waking up regularly overnight). Evidence suggests vitamin D receptors exist in the sleep area of the brain, but like I said we don’t really know the exact link between the relationship (yet).
Step one here is to have a blood test to see what your serum vitamin D levels are doing. You can then discuss the possibility of supplementation if required with your healthcare provider (or me if I’m your dietitian). Vitamin D does mostly come from the sun, with some dietary sources including salmon, eggs and sun-soaked mushrooms.
While I call out specific food types here, overall the evidence suggests diets high in fibre rich fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, legumes, nuts and seeds and seafood score higher when looking at diet and sleep relationships across numerous studies.
Sleep is responsible for rest and repair, with the duration and quality of regular sleep having a profound impact on mood, appetite, hormone secretion and so forth. It is one of the most crucial pillars when it comes to fertility and prenatal (and overall) health and worth your time investment to improve. A consultation with a prenatal and/or fertility dietitian can help assess your diet for improved sleep quality pre, during and post pregnancy.
Have any questions? Send me an email and I will get back to you directly 🙂
Goldstein, C.A., Smith, Y.R. Sleep, Circadian Rhythms, and Fertility. Curr Sleep Medicine Rep 2, 206–217 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40675-016-0057-9
Meng X, Li Y, Li S, Zhou Y, Gan RY, Xu DP, Li HB. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 7;9(4):367. doi: 10.3390/nu9040367. PMID: 28387721; PMCID: PMC5409706.
Saidi, O.; Rochette, E.; Del Sordo, G.; Peyrel, P.; Salles, J.; Doré, E.; Merlin, E.; Walrand, S.; Duché, P. Isocaloric Diets with Different Protein-Carbohydrate Ratios: The Effect on Sleep, Melatonin Secretion and Subsequent Nutritional Response in Healthy Young Men. Nutrients 2022, 14, 5299. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14245299
Paredes SD, Barriga C, Reiter RJ, Rodríguez AB. Assessment of the Potential Role of Tryptophan as the Precursor of Serotonin and Melatonin for the Aged Sleep-wake Cycle and Immune Function: Streptopelia Risoria as a Model. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009;2:23-36. doi: 10.4137/ijtr.s1129. Epub 2009 Jan 14. PMID: 22084580; PMCID: PMC3195230.
Giovanna Muscogiuri, Luigi Barrea, Marianna Scannapieco, Carolina Di Somma, Massimo Scacchi, Gianluca Aimaretti, Silvia Savastano, Annamaria Colao, Paolo Marzullo, The lullaby of the sun: the role of vitamin D in sleep disturbance, Sleep Medicine, Volume 54, 2019, Pages 262-265, ISSN 1389-9457, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2018.10.033.