An inflammatory diet can harm your sleep

When people switch to a more anti-inflammatory diet, they sleep better, according to a recent study published in the journal Nutrients.

Trouble falling asleep? Stay asleep? Sleep well?

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, tells WebMD. Fortune he has looked at the role of inflammatory diets in a number of different groups: police officers, pregnant women and men in general.

All such studies came to the same conclusion: when people switch to a more anti-inflammatory diet, they sleep better.

They don’t necessarily sleep longer, warns Wirth. But they spend more time sleeping in bed, without waking up. And they get more quality sleep. “It improves their sleep efficiency,” he notes.

Why? High levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor inhibit the natural rhythm of the sleep-wake cycle, says Wirth. If one’s diet often contains inflammatory foods, “you lose that natural rhythm.”

How to work towards an anti-inflammatory diet

His advice to those who want to improve their sleep through diet: don’t start drastic.

“One thing I try not to do is say, ‘Hey, take your diet and change everything about it,'” he says, adding that Americans in particular don’t respond well to such demands on their freedom.

His suggestion instead: Start by regularly adding just a few anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.

Some anti-inflammatory food options:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna
  • Brightly colored fruits such as strawberries, cherries, oranges and blueberries
  • Nuts such as walnuts and almonds
  • Hot, colorful peppers like jalapenos and habaneros

Even smaller changes can make a difference, such as adding spices, herbs, onions and/or garlic to the dishes you’ve been planning to make. Spices and herbs, in particular, are “some of the most anti-inflammatory foods on the planet,” Wirth says — an effect that’s the opposite of what you’d expect given their spiciness and heat.

If you find you’re sleeping better and want to take it a step further, cut back on animal protein and foods “that come in a box,” Wirth recommends.

He refers to the concept of ‘shopping on the outside of the store’. If you stick to the parameters, stick to what’s fresh — fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and the like — and avoid processed foods loaded with unhealthy preservatives and additives.

If that seems like too big an order, focus on snacks first, Wirth suggests, since they’re usually the main source of processed foods in a diet.

Anti-inflammatory snacks to avoid include:

  • Potato chips
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Pastries
  • Grain
  • Snack pies
  • Soft drinks and sweetened drinks

Other good foods to limit because of their inflammatory status: fried foods like fried chicken and foods loaded with oil, like many pizzas.

Eliminating even one or two inflammatory foods from your diet will put your body on the road to healing, advises Wirth. And you can expect to get paid in both the short and long term.

“After two, three, four nights of really good sleep, you’ll start to see changes in alertness during the day, the ability to think quickly, not be as tired physically,” he says.

Further afield, expect a reduction in the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer and other ailments.

When inflammation disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, more than just sleep is affected, warns Wirth. That includes “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 quickly set the needle back.

Adds Wirth, “You’re going to feel better, be able to think better, do things better physically.”

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