• Micah Kidd

Nutrition should support sleep

Hello again, for those who have been following along (and those who haven’t) we have recently discussed the role sleep deprivation plays in weight gain. It’s taken me a while to write about nutrition because there is so much to say that it is easy to get lost in the minutiae of a specific diet plan such as the Mediterranean diet or ketogenic diet. We will talk about those topics at a later time, for now we need to look at the bigger picture.

Just to summarize, if you have put on a few extra pounds since teaching, you are not alone, in fact you are very much part of the norm. The hours that are required for this job lead to us being too tired to make healthy nutritional choices. The dominoes fall in this order: first the sleep goes, then the nutrition.

We also discussed the role hormones play in changes to our appetite and the way our body functions. What I want you to take away from this article is that the food you eat also has a huge impact on your sleep. If you are to optimize your sleep, nutrition must play a crucial role.

Hopefully you’ve optimized your sleep patterns, that is really the first step. Part of this step is actually going to be to change your nutrition so that it supports a restful night.

Food is medicine, it can be used to support everything from our hormones, our immune system, our bones and joints etc.

The common thread that all the successful diets have in common is the preference towards whole foods over refined or processed foods.

By whole foods I simply mean foods that are closer to mother nature, the less processing and additives the better. Foods that are as close to their natural state as possible would be ideal. There are significant differences between the highly processed foods that have become so abundant in our diets and the whole foods that haven’t undergone an extensive amount of manipulation in a laboratory or factory.

Some of the things added and taken out of our foods during processing can really make it even harder to get a restful night.

Let’s make a quick comparison:


fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.

1. Contain Dietary fiber – which has been associated with more time spent in deep, slow wave sleep as fiber helps to slow down digestion, thereby minimising blood sugar spikes and crashes. 2. Are rich in nutrients – as they contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as calcium, potassium and magnesium which have all been shown to help with sleep. In addition, GABA, which is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter in your brain that is responsible for helping you to feel relaxed, can be found in many whole foods such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), mushrooms, barley grass, spinach, sweet potatoes, brown rice – to name a few.

Processed Foods

“Convenience foods", such as microwave meals or ready meals, energy drinks, white bread, cereals, fruit juices, sodas, lunch meats, fast foods. donuts etc.,

1. They disrupt blood sugar levels – which can contribute to broken sleep or intermittent arousals, thereby preventing the body from being able to gain deep, restorative sleep.

2. They contain little or no nutrients – our body needs certain nutrients or co-factors to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that play a role in initiating sleep. For example, in order for serotonin to be converted into the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, the body requires magnesium, calcium and vitamin B5. 3. They cause inflammation in the body – by increasing oxidative stress and enhancing sympathetic nervous system activity, otherwise known as the ‘fight and flight’ stress response. This prevents the body from being able to shift into parasympathetic mode which is the ‘rest and digest’ arm of the autonomic nervous system, and is essential for sleep to occur.

The bottom line here is that if you are eating a diet comprised of mostly processed foods, it will interfere with your sleep. What we eat absolutely plays a role in how we sleep. Choose whole foods that will support sleep.

It really comes down to improving sleep, in order to do that we need to calm our bodies and minds, this is something that only whole foods can do as opposed to processed foods.

Nearly any food you currently enjoy can be approximated or created using whole foods. It’s actually quite fun and rewarding to experiment with whole foods and see what you can create using healthier ingredients that will support your teaching lifestyle rather than foods that help you cope. There are many recipes we could certainly share, but I don’t want people to get the idea that I am suggesting a restrictive diet that has them eating stuff they hate, enjoy your food, just make it as close to whole foods as possible.

Have fun with it. Below is a recipe that will help curb the sweet tooth. This recipe contains healthy fats, proteins and carbs as well as fiber so it is nutritionally complete. It uses dates which are a great whole food and sleepy food for us. Very easy to make.

Vanilla paste is one that people ask about, it can be substituted for pure vanilla extract, but do not use imitation vanilla(it is just corn syrup flavored like vanilla and causes inflammation.) This is an example of a small ingredient change that can really make a difference if we are mindful.

These Lime, Coconut and Date Christmas Balls are perfect for sensitive tummies on night-shift, and also make for a nice change to the regular “Cacao Protein Ball” recipes that I’ve made before, not to mention the caffeine in the cacao can keep us awake post night-shift!

Here is a pic someone else made, mine are not so photogenic, they taste like keylime pie.

What’s great about them?

  • Dates are an excellent natural way to curb a sweet tooth.

  • They are rich in vitamin C, which is important for shift workers fighting with depleted immune systems as a result of little sleep.

  • Gelatin contains an amino acid called glutamic acid, which is converted to glutamine in the body that has been shown to improve the integrity of the gut wall and help prevent intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. Intestinal permeability (IP) is quite common in shift workers due to circadian desynchronization, or a disruption to the normal sleep/wake cycle, which in turn, can contribute to gut disturbances.

  • Citrus fruits such as limes can enhance cardiovascular health, as lime juice and peel was shown to reduce the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries, thereby lowering the risk of stroke.

  • When combined with foods containing non-heme iron (such as those found in plant based food sources such as the almonds), the vitamin C in the limes will help to increase the amount of iron that the body can absorb. Given low iron status can contribute to fatigue – this is something that shift workers definitely want to avoid!

Ingredients (makes 20)

1 cup of almond meal

1 cup of medjool dates, pitted

3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon Changing Habits gelatin

Juice from 2-3 limes

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

How to make them!

Blend all ingredients into your food processor until the mixture begins to clump. Transfer to a mixing bowl and roll into small little balls, then cover in desiccated coconut to create that Christmasy-snowflake look!


The information on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease.

The sole purpose of this site is to serve as a resource of online ESL teachers. To educate and promote safe occupational health measures that to enhance the teaching experience.