Do you have trouble falling asleep? Stay asleep? Sleep well ?
Your diet could be to blame.
A new study from the University of South Carolina, recently published in the journal Nutrients, found that those who ate more inflammatory foods slept worse than those who ate less.
Dr. Michael Wirth, one of the study’s lead authors and an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the university’s Arnold School of Public Health, says Fortune he looked at the role of inflammatory diets in a number of different groups: police officers, pregnant women, and men in general.
All of these studies came to the same conclusion: when people adopt a more anti-inflammatory diet, they sleep better.
They don’t necessarily sleep longer, warns Wirth. But they spend more time in bed asleep, without waking up. And they get better quality sleep. “It improves their sleep efficiency,” he notes.
For what? High levels of inflammatory markers like interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor inhibit the natural rhythm of the sleep-wake cycle, Wirth says. If someone’s diet contains inflammatory foods frequently, “you lose that natural rhythm.”
How to switch to an anti-inflammatory diet
His advice to those who want to improve their sleep through diet: Don’t start drastic.
“One thing I try not to do is say, ‘Hey, take your diet and change everything about it,'” he says, adding that Americans, in particular, don’t respond well to such demands for freedom.
His suggestion instead: start by regularly adding a few anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
Some anti-inflammatory food options:
Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale
Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
Brightly colored fruits like strawberries, cherries, oranges and blueberries
Nuts like walnuts and almonds
Hot, colorful peppers like jalapenos and habaneros
Even smaller changes can make a difference, such as adding spices, herbs, onions, and/or garlic to dishes you’ve already planned to make. Spices and herbs in particular are ““some of the most anti-inflammatory foods on this planet,” Wirth says — an opposite effect to what you might expect, given their zest and heat.
If you find you’re sleeping better and looking to go further, cut back on animal protein and foods “that come in a box,” recommends Wirth.
It refers to the notion of “shopping outside the store”. If you stick to the parameters, you will encounter what is fresh (fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy, etc.) and avoid processed foods filled with unhealthy preservatives and additives.
If that seems like too much, focus on snacks first, suggests Wirth, as they are usually the main source of processed foods in a diet.
Inflammatory snacks to avoid include:
Other good foods to limit due to their inflammatory status: fried foods like fried chicken, and those laden with oil, like many pizzas.
Eliminating even one or two inflammatory foods from your diet will put your body on the road to recovery, advises Wirth. And you can expect to receive both short-term and long-term benefits.
“After two, three, four nights of really good sleep, you’ll start to see changes in alertness during the day, the ability to think on your feet, physically less tired,” he says.
Further, expect a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
When inflammation disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm, more than sleep is affected, warns Wirth. The same goes for “everything from your body’s ability to fight infection and digest your food, to prevent insulin resistance.”
The good news: Small, positive food choices can start to draw the needle back quickly.
Wirth adds: “You’re going to feel better, be able to think better, do things better physically.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com