Diet and sleep are the two factors that pretty much dictate your well-being, so it’s no wonder that scientists are exploring how they interact and trying to pinpoint the best foods for sleep deprivation. According to Chris Winter, M.D., a sleep specialist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the author of The Sleep Solution, there is a clear connection between them.
“Sleep and wakefulness are controlled by a series of chemical reactions in the body,” he says. “Certain nutrients can affect them to alter how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night, and how you feel the next day.” (Related: 3 Quick Bed Stretches to Help You Sleep Better)
This is far beyond drinking warm milk to drift off. Your day-to-day diet is what has the potential to improve your night’s sleep.
“When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that tells you to eat more, and less leptin, which signals you to stop eating,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep.
The reverse is also true: Eating certain healthy foods calms your nervous system and triggers a sleep-inducing hormonal response, scientists say, helping you rest better at night.
Getting enough zzzs is particularly important for active women. “Sleep allows your body to recover from tough workouts and readies it for the next one,” says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. “During deep sleep, every muscle in your body works to rebuild itself stronger than before.”
The seven to eight hours of sleep a night that experts say women need may sound like a lot, but just wait: Active women, especially those training for an endurance event, need up to 10 hours for peak performance, says James B. Maas, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Cornell University and author of Power Sleep. “Well-rested people are typically 20 percent quicker at performing physical tasks than those who lack adequate rest,” he says. “Sleep plays a major role in muscle memory, which sharpens your focus and reduces reaction time.” (More about why sleep is the #1 important thing for a better bod.)