Medscape: The researcher Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, describes the links between the foods we eat and the quality of our sleep.

Usually, people can pinpoint food or beverage triggers that contribute to bad sleep: Drinking coffee too late in the day or having a large meal too close to bedtime are two obvious ones that can interfere with sleep. What is less noticeable is how healthy choices made throughout the day can have a positive influence on slumber.

Our studies over the past seven years have shown that eating more fiber and less saturated fat and sugar during the day results in deeper, less disturbed sleep at night. It may be particularly helpful to eat a Mediterranean-type diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and olive oil, and low in red and processed meat and whole-fat dairy. In our research, those who followed this diet were 1.4 times more likely to have good night’s sleep and 35 percent less likely to have insomnia.

Why? It’s partly because protein-rich foods such as nuts and seeds, fish, poultry and eggs contain tryptophan, an amino acid from which the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin is produced in the brain. Other foods — including tomatoes, pineapple, tart cherries, bananas, apples, vegetable oils, nuts and animal products — contain melatonin itself. In plants, melatonin serves as an antioxidant to prevent damage, while in animals it serves to regulate their sleep (much as it does in humans). Eating such melatonin-rich foods may also boost your own melatonin levels, although research on this is sparse.

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