Even if you get in bed at a decent hour, your diet could be affecting the quality of your sleep.

By Lauren Wicks
March 25, 2019
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In a perfect world, we would all get to bed on time and sleep for eight hours straight. And the next morning, we’d wake up feeling rested and energized. While that is actually the case for some, it is not for many of us. In fact, 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep on average.

Our stressful lifestyles, sedentary activity levels, and poor diets have recently all been linked to low sleep quality. In fact, diets lacking in whole foods can lead to vitamin deficiencies, which are closely tied to sleep disorders. Here are some of the essential nutrients you may be lacking if your sleep is suffering.

Magnesium

Greg DuPree

Magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body—including reducing stress and blood pressure, boosting our metabolisms, and keeping our nerves and muscles strong—yet it is one of the most difficult nutrients to get enough of. Magnesium is not only responsible for reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality, but also boosting energy levels to keep you powered through the day.

The NIH advises men and women between the ages of 19 and 30 consume 400 and 310mg, respectively, and increase to 420 and 320mg after age 30. While many Americans don’t get enough of this essential nutrient, it can be easily obtained through a plant-forward diet. Some of the best sources of magnesium are nuts, spinach, black beans, soy, whole wheat bread, avocado, and potatoes.

View Recipe: Avocado, Black Bean, and Charred Tomato Bowl

Vitamin D

Photo: Victor Protasio

Vitamin D is another hard-to-get nutrient, especially during grueling winter months. Sunshine is our best source of this hormone, and sun exposure is a factor in properly producing melatonin, the hormone in charge of regulating our circadian rhythms. Similar to magnesium, Vitamin D deficiencies are not only linked to poor sleep quality but also to lower energy levels throughout the day.

The NIH advises the average adult consume 600IU of Vitamin D each day, which is relatively easy to come by for omnivores. Fatty fish, beef liver, and fortified dairy are all good or excellent sources. However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may have to stock up on Vitamin D-fortified products if you don’t spend much time in the outdoors. Orange juice, some plant-based milks, and cereals are often fortified with Vitamin D. Mushrooms are also a great source.

View Recipe: Easy Sesame-Hoisin Salmon

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Calcium

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

Looks like your mom was onto something when she would give you a glass of warm milk before bed! We typically associate calcium with bone health, but it is also an important factor in our sleep quality. Calcium deficiencies are linked to difficulty falling asleep, as well as non-restorative sleep.

The NIH advises men and women between the ages of 19-50 obtain 1000mg per day, while women over the age of 50 should increase their intake to 1200mg per day. Some excellent sources of calcium are dairy products, sardines, fortified plant-based milks, tofu, and turnip greens. Pro tip: consuming Vitamin D-rich foods helps your body better absorb calcium, so eat them together for max benefits.

View Recipe: Skillet Mushroom Mac and Cheese

Vitamin B12

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to a host of sleep problems—from insomnia to sleepiness, not getting enough of this vitamin can wreak havoc on your nighttime routine. Vitamin B12 is also extremely important for our heart health and energy levels.

The NIH advises anyone age 14 and up should consume 2.4mcg B12 daily. The vitamin can only be found in animal protein sources such as beef, fish, eggs, chicken, and dairy products. While vegans are advised to supplement their diets with B12, nutritional yeast is a delicious vegan flavoring agent that packs anywhere from 20-300 percent of our daily B12 needs per serving.

View Recipe: Grass-Fed Beef Sirloin Kebabs

Potassium

Photo: Brian Woodcock

Potassium is most commonly linked to preventing muscle cramps, but the mineral is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Potassium regulates blood pressure, strengthens our muscles, and works with magnesium to improve sleep quality.

The NIH advises men age 19 and up obtain 3400 mg potassium per day, while women should strive for 2600 mg. Potassium is found in a wide range of foods, but several plant-based foods give you the most bang for your buck. Dried apricots, lentils, raisins, potatoes, kidney beans, soy, and bananas are all excellent sources of the nutrient.

View Recipe: Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Vitamin B6

Photo: Colin Price

Reading through a list of the possible consequences stemming from a Vitamin B6 deficiency is pretty terrifying, making sleep quality just one of many reasons to ensure you’re getting enough of this nutrient. Vitamin B6 is responsible for over 100 enzyme reactions in the body, and specifically helps us with protein metabolism.

The NIH advises adults between the ages of 19-50 consume 1.3mg of B6 per day, while men and women over 50 should strive for 1.7 and 1.5mg, respectively. Some of the best sources of this B vitamin are chickpeas, tuna, chicken, potatoes, turkey, and bananas.

View Recipe: Tuna-Quinoa Toss

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Omega 3’s have become a hot topic in the nutrition world as fewer people are fearing fat and more are understanding its importance in a healthy diet. Omega-3’s are known for boosting our heart and brain health and have even been linked to reducing anxiety and insomnia. This heart-healthy fat not only reduces these problems, but also promotes improved sleep quality.

The NIH advises females age 19 and older consume 1.1g of these essential fatty acids each day, while men are advised to consume 1.6g per day. Fatty fish, canola oil, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts are all great sources of omega-3 fats.

View Recipe: Mocha-Flax Smoothie

 

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