Veganuary: Can a plant-based diet affect your sleep?

You’d have to have been sleeping under a rock not to know that it’s January, but did you know that it’s also ‘Veganuary’, the month in which thousands of people vow to ditch meat, eggs, honey, and dairy products for just over four weeks?

Veganuary began in 2014 and, since then, more than half a million people have signed up officially to turn vegan for one month. Their numbers increase every year and, with high profile vegans including Miley Cyrus, Jaoquin Phoenix and Natalie Portman cheerleading the lifestyle, the number of day-to-day vegans is increasing, too.

We’re not surprised. Vegan diets have been linked to better cardiovascular health, are better for animals, and the production of meat and dairy has been intrinsically linked to the destruction of the environment. But what about sleep? How do vegan diets impact your snoozing capabilities? Quite drastically, it turns out.

Why might vegans or plant-based people sleep better?

You’ve most likely heard lots of rumours about things you should and should not eat before bed, but did you know that protein was one of them? Meat protein is particularly difficult for your body to digest. If you eat it before bedtime, you might find that sleeping is a struggle.

Vegans don’t eat meat and get their protein from alternative sources, such as tofu, beans, and lentils, and, though these foods are protein rich and have a similar effect on the body if eaten before bedtime, they’re much less likely to cause uncomfortable conditions like bloating, constipation, or a sudden urge to rush to the toilet.

Vegan diets have also been linked to lower levels of inflammation, so if you have achy joints and muscles and they cause you discomfort and interrupt your sleep, switching to plant-based eating might improve your symptoms.

And if you have sleep apnea, you should almost definitely be leaning towards veganism. A recent study by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that animal-based products worsen the condition.

But this isn’t just about avoiding animal-based products, it’s about recognising the benefit of plants. Dr. Neil Barnard, founding president of PCRM, told Live Kindly that plant based foods are beneficial for sleep because they stimulate the release of serotonin, which helps us to sleep. He recommends that you avoid all types of proteins, animal-based or not, on an evening.

Cons of vegan food

There is absolutely no downside to increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. But if you choose to switch to a completely plant-based diet, it’s important that you do your research. Careful consideration is needed to make sure you get the vital nutrients you need from your food. If you neglect them, this could have a negative impact on your sleeping pattern.

When you give up dairy, you give up a source of calcium, so do make sure that you replace this by including leafy green vegetables, fortified soya milk, pulses and sesame seeds. Calcium converts essential amino acids into serotonin and support your natural sleep cycle.

What can I eat to get a better night of sleep?

Serotonin, tryptophan and melatonin are essential elements of sleep and are found in many vegan foods.

Melatonin is a hormone that the body releases in response to changes in light. For an added boost of melatonin, eat oats, cherries, bananas, spinach and tomatoes.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes sleep. It’s found in protein foods like kale, and in bananas. It’s also found in poultry, particularly turkey, but according to experts, that’s not the best way to get tryptophan, because when it is ingested as part of a high protein meal, tryptophan levels in the brain decline. This is due to the mechanism of transport it uses to cross the blood barrier.

Serotonin is used by the body to synthesize melatonin. You can get this from butternut squash seeds, sea vegetables, soy, cucumber, wheat, walnuts, potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, and leafy greens.

Can’t I just use pills?

Yes, you could. There are over the counter and doctor prescribed pills that give you the hormonal injection you need to help you sleep, but we happen to think that the world is too full of tablets and that these should only really be used when it’s an absolute necessity. If there’s a natural solution to your sleep related issues, then we recommend you use it.

So, should I go vegan?

Veganism is a huge lifestyle shift and the decision to do it should not be taken lightly, though the benefits for health, the environment, and animals cannot be ignored.

There’s also a very important distinction to be made between classifying yourself as vegan or plant based. Vegans do not use animal products at all. They shun wool and leather, and they don’t agree with horse riding or zoos. If you’re only thinking of changing your diet, then you’re not a vegan; you’re plant-based.

We’d recommend that you do your own research into a plant-based diet and, if you think it’s the best course of action for you and your family, take steps towards that lifestyle.

If you want to improve your overall health, an increase in the number of vegetables you eat can only be beneficial, as long as you’re sticking to your recommended daily calorie intake, and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that reducing meat consumption is better for our bodies.

If you’re not ready to make the transition yet but you need help sleeping, we’d recommend removing meat from your evening meal and replacing your sustenance with some of the vegetables we’ve mentioned in this article to boost your sleep inducing hormones and kick-start a soothing night of slumber.

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