We often associate food with our abilities on stage: strength, mental clarity, and endurance are just some of the performance benefits of a balanced plate. But what about the impact of sleep on our performance potential?
An insufficient night of sleep can have detrimental effects on a dancer’s well-being. In fact, certain foods and even day-to-day habits can significantly hinder or enhance our sleep quality.
What Defines Sleep Quality?
Two variables lay the foundation for measuring sleep quality. These are:
- The amount of time one spends asleep in bed, and
- The amount of time it takes to fall asleep at night.
Optimal sleep quality, as we know, lends itself to optimal mental, physical, and emotional functioning. And while there is no single ingredient that gives us better sleep quality, there are steps we can take to promote an adequate night of rest.
Evidence suggests that consuming a large percentage of whole grains and other complex carbohydrates is correlated with an overall improved sleep experience. Quick recap: complex carbohydrates include fibrous whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and certain vegetables. Whole grains in particular contain tryptophan, selenium, and magnesium, all of which uniquely induce sleep-promoting bodily functions. These three components work together to downregulate the stress hormone cortisol and mediate the sleep hormone melatonin. The result? Relaxation of our overactive muscles.
On the flip side, a diet heavier in simple carbohydrates may result in lower quality of sleep. Simple carbohydrates are naturally found in fruit and dairy. They’re also added to some packaged foods, baked goods, and energy drinks. Since we often strive for a non-restrictive outlook on food, there is no need to completely avoid food sources of simple carbohydrates. Rather, aim to incorporate more complex carbohydrates, especially whole grains, when possible. Here are some sleep-promoting food combos to try:
- Almonds are high in magnesium, which has been shown to promote muscle relaxation and sleep. Spread almond butter on whole-grain toast. Sprinkle hemp seeds for a boost in protein, which keeps you feeling full until the morning.
- Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which has been shown to improve melatonin levels. Try baked salmon with paired with quinoa and sauteed broccoli.
10 Steps To Better Sleep:
From classes and rehearsals to homework and catching up with friends, it can be challenging to squeeze a full 8-9 hours of sleep into your schedule. Eating a balanced and mindful diet is one of the best things we can do to encourage quality sleep. However, consider these minor daily adjustments to further the process:
- Turn off electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
- Sip on your favorite non-caffeinated tea (Here’s my favorite)
- Read a chapter of a book.
- Add some high-magnesium foods to your day. Examples include almonds, walnuts, tofu, pepitas, whole grains, meat, and fruit.
- Get your fluids in earlier: needing to a pee is a major contributor to nighttime wakings!
- Skip the dark chocolate right before bed—it contains stimulants caffeine and theobromine, which can leave you feeling more alert than calm.
- If you find your mind racing, physically jot down tomorrow’s agenda on a post-it.
- Eat enough throughout the day. Whether intentional or unintentional, under-eating will disrupt nighttime sleep. To learn more about whether or not you’re eating enough, click here.
- Meditate, even if it’s just for 5 minutes!
- Reset your internal clock and reduce daytime naps.
- St-Onge, Marie-Pierre et al. “Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 7,5 938-49. 15 Sep. 2016.
- Nisar, Maheen et al. “Influence of Dietary Intake on Sleeping Patterns of Medical Students.” Cureus vol. 11,2 e4106. 20 Feb. 201.
Article written with the help of student Abby Haynes. Expert reviewed by Rachel Fine.