How eating a plant-based diet can affect your sleep

The benefits of eating a plant-based diet are diverse. For instance we know those who shun meat are less likely to be overweight, and less likely to develop a host of long term health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart problems.

This post is brought to you by Sleep Advisor.

According to the experts the benefits of a good night’s sleep are equally wide and varied. But is there a link between a vegan diet and good sleep? It's a claim made by many veg-only eaters out there.

Below we take a little look at the pros and cons!

Protein

It should come as no surprise to you that what we consume during the day effects our sleep at night.

Meat as we all know is very heavy in protein and protein takes a long time for the body to digest.

Eating a heavy meat based meal means the digestive system goes into overdrive at the very time you want your body to be settling down for sleep. The result is a bad night’s sleep.

But it isn’t just meat that is heavy in protein, vegans get their protein hit from a variety of sources. And knocking back a plate of tofu burgers or a scrumptious lentil dhal can have an equally negative impact on sleep as a bacon sandwich.

The solution – avoid protein-heavy meals in the hours before bed, whatever the source, meat or not.

Dairy

Dairy is omitted by the vegan diet and by some strict vegetarian ones too. This can have a wondrous impact on an individual’s digestion and therefore sleep. Goodbye irritating gas, bothersome bloating and painful cramps – hello a good night’s rest.

Actually not so fast. In some cases ditching dairy can also negatively impact our sleep.

Milk, yoghurt and cheese are all jammed full of calcium, an incredibly useful mineral that our body uses in serotonin production. Serotonin being the chemical neurotransmitter responsible for stimulating the parts of the brain that control sleep and waking.

The tradition of a warm glass of milk in the evening had to come from somewhere.

Those who stick to a plant only diet need to ensure they get their calcium from other sources to ensure healthy sleep patterns. Namely, almonds, sesame seedsi, and orange, as well as supplements of course.

If you do this then, yes, kicking the cow juice will more than likely improve your sleep.

Skip the avocado but go bananas

Take the avocado, love its creamy glory or hate it’s unstoppable hipster omnipotence – researchers can’t even agree if it helps or hinders sleep.

Fat, much like protein, is hard to digest in the evening and weighing in at over 20 grams of fat per serving (good fat I should add), avocados are healthy for us but take a long time to digest.

And so for the same reason as avoiding eating a big meal just before bed, maybe you should keep having your smashed avocado on toast for breakfast and not supper.

The banana however is the ideal late night snack. Stuffed full of potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that are natural muscle relaxants. The humble nana also contains the sleep-promoting amino acid tryptophan, which the body turns to serotonin (there that word again) and melatonin in the brain.

Tryptophan

When it comes to talk about which foods to eat before bed one word appears often – tryptophan.

For those on a plant-based diets, luckily nuts and seeds are full of the stuff. As are soy, wheat, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower.

But once again, certain foods that vegans avoid are also big sources of tryptophan. Ever wondered why everyone gets so sleepy after thanksgiving dinner? Yes, the eggnog but also because turkey is high in tryptophan. So are dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese.

Unfortunately for meat eaters however the saturated fats that overwhelms their diet often plays a role in inhibiting the use the body can make out of tryptophan for serotonin and melatonin production.

A win for the plant nibblers on this one I think.

The answer

Does a plant-based diet improve the chance of a good night’s sleep? As you might have worked out by now the answer is not a straightforward yes or no.

Just because an individual avoids meat-derived products doesn’t necessarily mean they are making the right food choices to ensure a good night’s sleep. Similarly a meat-eater who times their carnivorous behaviour correctly can sleep like a baby.

Both diets contain sleep enhancers and sleep blockers. The trick is to be aware of what you’re eating and when you’re eating it. My advice, make smart choices and experiment until you find a meal plan that works for you.

Now of course this was looking at the question from a purely biological standpoint. How meat-eaters can ethically sleep at night is a whole other debate. And one for another time maybe.

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