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Can Fermented Foods Help You Sleep?

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Can Fermented Foods Help You Sleep?

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Hoping to find a new food-first approach to remedy your sleepless nights? Perhaps you’ve already tried out the likes of pre-ZZZ tart cherry juice and chamomile tea tea, or made an effort to limit your alcohol intake in the hours before bedtime.

However, the truth is that the makings for more restful sleep begin well before nightfall, so it makes sense to consider the full scope of your dietary patterns to see where you can make small tweaks that have the potential to yield great results. That said, if you’re not stocking your fridge with fermented foods and drinks, you may want to start doing so for your gut health and sleep quality alike.

Keep reading to see what experts have to say about the connection between fermented foods and sleep. Plus: top tips to get your microbiome, mind, and mood in a better place from the power of the plate.

Can fermented foods help you sleep?

In short, a diet rich in fermented foods has the potential—whether directly or indirectly—to enhance sleep. Studies are currently underway in Ireland to unpack which fermented foods are best for brain health, which, in turn, may also have the ability to support better sleep. To date, these studies “demonstrate a correlation between a diet high in fermented foods and improved sleep quality, though more research is needed to prove the connection between fermentation and sleep quality,” says Pratima Dibba, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist with Medical Offices of Manhattan. But how might these mouth-puckering bites and beverages translate into benefits for sleep?

“It is theorized that fermented foods produce tryptophan—a building block for serotonin and melatonin—which are both associated with good sleep quality,” Dr. Dibba continues. (You might recognize tryptophan in relation to Thanksgiving food comas, as turkey is a rich source of the amino acid, as well.)

“When you consume tryptophan, it gets converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and promotes relaxation,” explains Erin Kenney, MS, RD, LDN, HCP, CPT, dietitian and CEO of Nutrition Rewired. “Serotonin can then be further converted into melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles.” Moreover, Dr. Dibba adds that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), another neurotransmitter connected to sleep, “is also produced by the gut microbiome and affected by foods that improve [it],” with fermented fare among them.

“It is theorized that fermented foods produce tryptophan—a building block for serotonin and melatonin—which are both associated with good sleep quality.”—Pratima Dibba, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist

Kenney continues to explain how fermented foods can indirectly enhance sleep by promoting a healthy gut microbiome. That these foods—some of which may also contain probiotics—help restore and maintain a balanced gut, which supports the gut-brain axis. “Research suggests that a healthy gut microbiota can positively influence brain function and mental health, including sleep regulation,” she shares. One such study found that microbiome diversity is positively correlated with sleep efficiency and total sleep time, and negatively correlated with fragmented sleep.

Each of these points considered, a serving or two of fermented foods might not lull you off to sleep in the same way as popping a melatonin supplement would. Nonetheless, they can still support neurotransmitters, hormones, and processes that are crucial to support your mood and circadian rhythm—thus promoting beneficial effects for sleep and beyond.

5 tips to boost your gut and sleep quality

Of course, it takes more than consuming fermented foods and probiotics to support gut health (and improve your sleep), but it’s a significant piece of the puzzle overall. “A healthy gut environment can reduce inflammation, enhance nutrient absorption, and support proper digestion, all of which contribute to better sleep,” says Kenney. By heeding her top tips to support your gut, you just might find yourself clocking in more high-quality shuteye in no time.

1. Enrich your diet with fermented and probiotic foods

While some fermented foods contain probiotics, not all of them do—but it still pays to get both in your diet. Popular options include the likes of kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, each of which have a variety of different options within them. For instance, there are over 200 types of kimchi on offer in Korean cuisine. Meanwhile, you can enjoy kefir made from dairy or oats, with or without flavors, from brands like Lifeway, or via tangy sodas like those from Buchi.

2. Power up with produce

To enhance gut diversity, you’ll want to add more fibrous, plant-based foods to your plate. “To simultaneously improve both gut health and sleep quality, eat a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes,” Kenney advises. While findings from the American Gut Project show that consuming 30 types of plants per week resulted in the healthiest microbiomes in participants, don’t stress over reaching this number (though it may be easier to reach than it sounds).

While findings from the American Gut Project show that consuming 30 types of plants per week resulted in the healthiest microbiomes in participants, don’t stress over reaching this number (though it may be easier to reach than it sounds).

3. Limit foods that are less friendly to your gut

As you add more nutrient-rich foods to your rotation, you can amplify benefits by reducing your intake of foods that aren’t as ideal for your gut, sleep, and health at large. “Limiting processed foods, especially those that are high in sugar, can help reduce inflammation in the gut,” Kenney notes. Moreover, late-night sugary snacks definitely won’t do you any favors as far as your blood sugar levels and sleep quality are concerned.

4. Stay hydrated

To help your brain, gut, and entire body function as it should, it’s essential to maintain hydration levels. “Dehydration can allow for unhealthy bacteria to take over in the gut,” Kenney shares. “Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.” Tip: If twilight trips to the toilet also get in the way of sleeping throughout the night, it can help to limit your intake of fluids in the hours leading up to bedtime.

5. Establish a stress-free, calming bedtime routine

Kenney says that chronically high cortisol levels from stress can disrupt the lining of the digestive tract—not to mention exacerbate conditions like IBS. While you’ll want to find healthy ways to manage stress when it arises throughout the day, it’ll also help to establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Whether that includes reading, meditating, or even sipping on your sleep-friendly tonic of choice, the dietitian notes that calming practices can simultaneously support digestion, a healthy gut barrier, and sleep quality.



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