Respecting nutritional chronobiology: the right food at the right time
To sleep well, we need to synthesise a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin itself is dependent on a sufficient level of serotonin, called the “serenity hormone”.
The synthesis of serotonin in our brains requires the intake of an amino acid — tryptophan — through our diets. This amino acid is contained in foods such as dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, chocolate, and almonds. Be careful, however, with the method of cooking chosen as this amino acid is sensitive to heat. It is preferable to use low-temperature cooking methods, such as steaming.
In order for tryptophan to be transformed into serotonin and then into melatonin, it also requires the intervention of essential vitamins and minerals: Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, vitamin C, iron, copper, and the amino acid methionine. A diversified diet with animal and vegetable proteins and one that is rich in colourful vegetables and fruits will allow for the contribution of these co-factors. As far as iron is concerned, animal proteins provide iron that is better assimilated than vegetable proteins. B12 is also only found in foods of animal origin. For lacto-vegetarians and vegans, it will thus be necessary to analyse and supplement according to deficiencies.
Consuming complex carbohydrates and wholegrain products or legumes in the second half of the day promotes the synthesis of serotonin. Thus, a dinner rich in wholegrain cereals, such as wholegrain rice or pasta, or rich in legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, or coloured beans, will help you sleep better. But, they should be accompanied by a good portion of vegetables. For the latter, which will make up half of your plate, think about colour and variety so that they will provide the vitamins and minerals essential for these chemical reactions.
Wholegrain cereals have the advantage of being rich in fibre, which acts on satiety, and in vitamins and minerals (B-group vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, and the antioxidant vitamin E).
Expert’s advice: Choose organic wholegrain cereals because, by preserving the seed coat, there is also a risk of preserving pesticides.
Legumes are remarkably interesting for their richness in fibre, vegetable proteins, vitamins, and minerals. We can recommend green or coral lentils, chickpeas, split peas, beans, and dried beans in various colours.
If you feel a little hungry around 5 pm, the ideal snack to promote good sleep will consist of a small handful of almonds, fresh or dried fruit, and a square of dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa. This snack will increase the assimilation of tryptophan, an amino acid precursor of serotonin.
We can also promote digestion in the evening — and, therefore, better our sleep — by choosing detoxifying foods that help our liver to process waste, such as artichokes, turmeric accompanied by pepper and a good vegetable oil rich in omega 3 to optimise its absorption, broccoli, rosemary, and black radish. As liver cells regenerate at night, these foods will be beneficial for your sleep.