Did you know that what you eat and drink throughout the day not only has an impact on your health, but also your sleep and stress levels? From disrupting your sleep schedule to not giving your body the right amount or type of nutrients it needs, food and drink can drastically affect your day-to-day life.
Similar to foods that can help you sleep better (opens in new tab), there are also foods that can reduce your stress levels. A new study published in Nature from APC Microbiome (opens in new tab) has looked into the role of diet in supporting optimal mental health and has found that a psychobiotic diet can reduce stress and improve sleep.
In the study, 45 adults were studied for 4 weeks, with some following a psychobiotic diet which consists of foods that are prebiotic or fermented, while others followed a standard balanced diet. The results (which were determined by questionnaires and fluid samples) found that those who followed the psychobiotic diet felt less stressed and noticed a decrease in the amount and intensity of stress that they did experience.
In addition to fermented foods, increased fibre and less processed foods also had an impact on stress and sleep levels within the participants. So, if you’re feeling a little stressed or are having trouble sleeping, adding prebiotics or fibre to your diet can contribute to solving or easing these problems.
Below, we’ve found 5 foods that you should think about incorporating into your diet to help reduce stress and improve sleep.
The main takeaway from this study is that fermented or probiotic foods “demonstrated reductions in perceived stress in participants, and dietary interventions have successfully reduced symptoms of depression.” According to nutritionist Jenna Hope speaking to Woman & Home (opens in new tab), this is because fermented foods “contain live cultures and prebiotic fibres which help nourish the gut by feeding the beneficial bacteria.” This produces short-chain fatty acids which are said to be associated with health benefits, like better sleep, nutrient absorption and improved mood. When we say fermented, the first thing many people think of is sauerkraut, but other fermented foods include kimchi, kefir, pickles, sourdough bread, aged cheese and kombucha.
2. Beans & lentils
Another trend that the study found to be beneficial for stress was an increase in high fibre foods, like beans and lentils. Fibre is hard to digest compared to other nutrients and having too much fibre can make you feel a little uncomfortable. However, having extra fibre in your body forces your gut to produce more enzymes to digest food which results in more short-chain fatty acids which can help manage sleep and stress problems. Fermented foods are also high in fibre but if you’re not the biggest fan of these types of foods, other high fibre foods like beans and lentils are a great choice.
3. Berries & dried fruits
Other high fibre foods that are good for sleep and stress management are berries and dried fruits. Strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are high in fibre, great for digestion and are naturally low in calories, too. Other berries like avocado (did you know that an avocado is a single seeded berry?!) are also a good source of fat and potassium, and dried fruit is brilliant for blood flow and brain functioning. For sleep help, cherries are said to make you feel sleepier (opens in new tab) and improve the duration and quality of sleep.
4. Meat & fish
Foods that are high in protein and omega 3 have also been found to have stress-relieving benefits. According to BBC Good Food (opens in new tab), the body has an “increased demand for protein when chronically stressed”. Increased stress also sees a rise in blood sugar and pressure, and protein “helps to slow the release of sugar in the bloodstream”, so by prioritising protein, you can calm the body’s reaction to this. If you’re a meat eater, meat like chicken, turkey, lamb and beef is the best choice. If you prefer fish, prawns, lobster and crab have a high protein content and fish which are rich in omega 3 like salmon, sardines and oysters are also helpful for stress and sleep issues.
5. Nuts & seeds
Foods that are high in unsaturated fats can help tackle stress and improve your sleep quality. Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are high in zinc, B-vitamins and vitamin E which are good for boosting the immune system and helping the body manage stress. These nuts and other tree nuts like cashews and brazil nuts also contain melatonin, magnesium and zinc which improve sleep quality and help with insomnia, by regulating your body clock and maintaining healthy brain functions.