1. Hi Karman! You are introducing a new and unique class to Nashville Community Education, can you tell us more about your upcoming class?
I'm thrilled to be teaching a class through Nashville Community Education focused on how nutrition impacts our sleep. We often overlook diet as having a role in sleeping well at night, but there are certain nutrients in food that play a vital part in healthy sleeping habits! In this class, we will cover some key nutrients to consider for improved sleep, and then we'll make an easy recipe that incorporates those sleep-beneficial foods!
2. How did you get into this type of work?
I've been a practicing dietitian for ten years now and have worked in a variety of settings during that time. It was while doing group counseling in a behavioral health hospital with patients experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health illnesses that I became more interested in the connection between sleep, diet, and stress management. Lack of sleep was a common issue for patients in this setting, and along with poor sleep often came poor nutrition and diet. Sleep, diet, and mental health are all interconnected, and if we can help people make small improvements in each of these areas, over time, the impact will be significant and even life-changing. As a dietitian, my primary focus is to help people better understand nutrition and how it impacts our overall well-being.
3. How do the foods we eat affect our sleep?
Sleep is regulated by a series of chemical reactions, and if we can nourish our bodies with the right foods, we can help keep those processes working appropriately. There are foods that can negatively affect our sleep and foods that can positively affect sleep. Unfortunately, the typical American diet tends to be more abundant in the foods that are detrimental to sleep, like high-fat foods and excess sugar throughout the day. Not only are we eating more of the foods that can interfere with sleep, most Americans are not getting enough of the important nutrients that play a role in sleep, like magnesium. The food we eat can deliver the necessary vitamins and minerals our bodies need in order to do the best job they can do!
4. What is one of your favorite recipes that helps you catch some zzz's?
I have several recipes in the book that I love and make often, but one easy breakfast recipe I enjoy weekly is the Egg on Avocado Toast with Salsa. It's as simple as it sounds too! Toasted whole-grain bread topped with mashed avocado and an over-easy egg, then salsa on top. It has the protein, fat, carbohydrate trio that is satisfying and provides vitamin B6, which is necessary for the production of melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone). You won't fall asleep immediately after eating this breakfast; rather, it gives the body the necessary tools to do what it needs to do at the appropriate time.
5. When you think about the foods for a better night's sleep, what are some foods we should be keeping in our pantry and fridge?
Two foods I always suggest first are tart cherry juice and raw, hulled pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas. Tart cherry juice is one of the few foods that has been studied for its direct impact on sleep, and the results were positive! Tart cherry juice was found to help prolong sleep by 84 minutes in a group of participants who reported suffering from insomnia. They drank two 8-ounce glasses of the juice in the morning and about an hour before bedtime for two weeks during the study. Tart cherry juice also has anti-inflammatory properties. Pepitas are one of the best food sources of magnesium, a nutrient that many Americans are lacking. Magnesium is involved in 600 chemical reactions in the body and plays a key role in getting a good night's sleep.
6. You wrote a book about this subject, can you tell us more about your book?
The book includes 50 foods we should be enjoying more of for better sleep, along with 25 recipes to help implement those foods into your diet. I also share the basics about sleep, other factors to consider for improved sleep, and how lack of sleep over time can lead to serious health complications such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and poor immune health. Sleep is truly a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle, and I hope this book can help people understand how sleep and diet are integrated.
7. What are some takeaways you want people to have when they leave your class?
After this class, I hope that people are more in tune with what they choose to eat during the day and how food choices may impact the sleep they get at night. Class attendees will leave with an understanding of certain nutrients that are important for sleep and how to include more of the sleep-beneficial foods into their daily routine.