Fall is finally here, and with it several changes that can disrupt sleep patterns, from daylight savings time to changes in weather, and, of course, school, work and holidays. But Fall is also the perfect time to reset your sleep schedule, improve energy levels, and add certain foods to help fight your insomnia.
If you’re struggling to sleep through the night, and you’ve tried tweaks like optimizing your sleep environment, consider this your Fall guide to foods fighting your insomnia. Even better, you’ll get the energy reset you need to tackle the upcoming holiday season!
What Causes Seasonal Insomnia?
If you find yourself taking longer to fall asleep or waking up at night as the seasons change, you’re not alone.
While studies have suggested that sleep cycle disruption peaks in February, even the transition from Summer to Autumn can mean a disrupted sleep schedule, lower energy levels, and all around feeling miserable.
It’s not all in your head: seasonal insomnia happens to many of us. Fall is the best time to become aware of those sleep disturbances and get your sleep in check before the holidays hit. Here’s the most common reasons you’re not sleeping as well as the weather cools and the leaves change color.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is best understood as depression spurred by changes in sunlight, and usually hits hardest late Fall, and around Daylight Savings Time. Like other types of depression, common symptoms include:
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Fatigue and daytime drowsiness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of energy
Seasonal affective disorder is also associated with sleep issues–including not only difficulty sleeping, but also hypersomnia, which is defined as excessive daytime sleepiness or excessive sleeping.
One way to reduce SAD is using a biological bulb like the GoodDay bulb from Lighting Science. The LED spectrum light naturally boosts energy using blue light.
Sleep Schedule Changes
Fall is also one of the busiest times of year, with kids back in school (whether virtually or in person); as well as the fun and pressure of the holiday season–which can lead to sleep being put on the back burner.
A review of sleep studies, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Pharmacy and Therapeutics, discussed in depth the harmful effects of sleep deprivation on public safety.
As Dr. David Dinges, Professor and Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, explains: “People have come to value time so much that sleep is often regarded as an annoying interference….when you do not have enough willpower to work harder and longer.”
That’s especially problematic from September through December, which accounts for 5 out of 10 of the deadliest traffic accident days of the year.
The final reason I see clients start struggling with sleep mid to late Fall comes down to food. I’ve talked before about foods that interfere with sleep, which include spicy food; fatty food; and stimulants like chocolate and caffeine.
And Fall, from Halloween to Thanksgiving and the lead up to Winter holidays, is a stretch of time where Americans tend to eat more of these foods. That, coupled with making less time to exercise, could also lead to weight gain. Even worse, multiple studies have shown a strong link between obesity and sleep deprivation.
In a nutshell: what you eat can interfere with your sleep.
What Fall Foods Should I Eat For Better Sleep?
While some foods can interfere with sleep, Fall is loaded with fresh produce that can improve sleep quality and help your body get the rest it needs. Here are my top Fall foods to pick up, I love getting mine outdoors at a local farmer’s market!
Nothing says fall to me like apples–from the crunchy exterior to the iconic scent, I love everything from Braburns to Winesap. Whether you prefer tart, sweet, or somewhere in between, apples are one of the top foods for better Fall sleep. Vitamin C, paired with fiber, helps with blood sugar levels, while potassium helps relax muscles and support better sleep.
How To Eat
Eat apples fresh during the day, and pair with a little healthy fat, like peanut butter for satiety. If you want apples before bed, you may consider them cooked, as they’re easier to digest. I love them baked with just a drizzle of Bee Keeper Naturals Honey and a dash of cinnamon for a special treat.
Broccoli and Kale
Broccoli and kale aren’t only packed with nutrition; they also are powerful foods for better sleep. Both are a source of calcium, which combats insomnia by simulating tryptophan. Studies have shown that tryptophan plays a key role in regulating melatonin levels for optimal sleep.
For those with more sensitive digestion, kale and broccoli can be harder to digest; natural gut health capsules can help.
How to Eat
Try a kale salad at lunch; toss kale or broccoli with stir fries and whole wheat pasta, or even steamed with low fat cheese for an extra calcium boost. Just make sure you give your stomach enough time to digest before bed.
I admit: I have a special love for pumpkin, and can you blame me? Pumpkin is a nutrient powerhouse, with potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin A and biotin, all which can support sleep quality. But pumpkin is special in that, along with carrots, it’s a natural source of alpha carotene. Research suggests that alpha carotene reduces difficulty falling asleep.
How to Eat
I’m not going to tell you to always pass on pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice drinks. The key is to eat in moderation and not right before bed. A good compromise is fresh or canned pumpkin topped with spices and just a touch of dairy whip. You can also make savory pumpkin casseroles, or munch on carrots and hummus for a snack.
And don’t forget the seeds: pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted and provide the amino acid, tryphotan.
Mushrooms are available late summer, but also at their best in early Fall–and pretty easy to pick up year round. The earthy vegetables are known for their source of potassium and selenium (you can get ⅓ of the recommended intake in a cup), as well as vitamins B2 and B3, and D. Vitamin D is especially important to get as we get less sunlight. It’s well documented that Vitamin D is critical to regulating sleep-wake cycles, and during Fall and Winter, most of us don’t get enough of it.
How to Eat
I know mushrooms aren’t everyone’s favorite, but prepared well, they can be delicious. I like to transform a typical green bean casserole by nixing the heavy cream and steaming green beans, adding citrus, and topping with sauteed mushrooms. Garlic mushrooms make a great side dish, or you can mix mushrooms in salads, soups, sandwiches, or pasta.
We’ve all heard jokes about figgy pudding–but figs, like dates, are seriously underrated. Naturally sweet, they provide a boost of muscle relaxation from magnesium, plus a high fiber count and research suggests that figs even regulate blood sugar metabolism, keeping you from waking up at night from a crash.
How to Eat
As fall rolls around, be sure to stock your pantry with all the foods that will help you take advantage of the long winter nights and sleep a little better!