Your diet may be to blame.
A new study from the University of South Carolina, recently published in the journal Nutrients, found that those who ate more inflammatory foods slept worse than those who ate less of them.
dr. Michael Wirth—one of the study’s lead authors, and an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the university’s Arnold School of Public Health—said luck he looked at the role of inflammatory foods in several different groups: police officers, pregnant women, and men in general.
All such studies came to the same conclusion: When people move to a more anti-inflammatory dietthey sleep better.
They don’t need to sleep longer, warns Wirth. But they spend more time in bed sleeping, without waking up. And they get better quality sleep. “It improves their sleep quality,” he said.
Why? High levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor can disrupt the natural rhythm of the sleep-wake cycle, Wirth said. If a person’s diet is constantly filled with inflammatory foods, “you lose the natural rhythm.”
How to move towards an anti-inflammatory diet
His advice to those who want to improve their sleep through diet: Don’t start drastically.
“One thing I try not to do is say, ‘Hey, take your diet and completely change everything about it,'” he said, adding that Americans, in particular, are not good at respond to such demands of their freedom.
His suggestion instead: Start by simply adding two anti-inflammatory foods to your diet regularly.
Some anti-inflammatory food options:
- Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Brightly colored fruits like strawberries, cherries, oranges, and blueberries
- Nuts like walnuts and almonds
- Hot, colorful peppers like jalapenos and habaneros
Even small changes can make a difference, such as adding spices, herbs, onions, and/or garlic to dishes you already plan to make. Spices and herbs in particular are “”some of the most anti-inflammatory foods on this planet,” says Wirth—an effect that’s the opposite of what you might expect, given their excitement and warmth.
If you find yourself sleeping better and want to take things a step further, cut out animal protein and foods “that come in a box,” recommends Wirth.
He mentioned the idea of ”shopping outside the store.” If you follow the parameters, you will find what is fresh – fruits, vegetables, proteins, milk, etc. – and avoid processed foods full of bad preservatives and additives.
If that seems like a tall order, focus on snacks first, Wirth suggests, since they’re often the main source of processed foods in a meal.
Inflammatory snacks to avoid include:
- Snack cakes
- Sodas and sugary drinks
Some good foods to limit because of their inflammatory nature: fried foods like fried chicken, and those full of fat, like a lot of pizza.
Eliminating even one or two inflammatory foods from your diet will put your body on a path to recovery, advises Wirth. And you can expect to be rewarded with benefits in the short and long term.
“After two, three, four nights of really good sleep, you’ll see changes in daytime alertness, the ability to think on your feet, physically not being tired,” he said.
In addition, expect a reduction in the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
When inflammation disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, more than sleep is affected, Wirth warns. So is “everything from your body’s ability to fight infection and digest your food, to prevent insulin resistance.”
The good news: Small, positive food choices can start moving the needle back—quickly.
Adds Wirth: “You’ll feel better, be able to think better, do things physically better.”
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