Are you the kind of person who likes to eat a big meal before going to sleep or a small one? Do you prefer to fall asleep right after a late dinner, or do you prefer to eat earlier in the evening to leave a couple of hours between digesting dinner and going to sleep? While research has not yet decided which is best for you, there is growing evidence that it’s not how much you eat, but what you eat before bed that can have an impact on cognition.
There’s a certain food that helps your brain and your sleep. And that food––drumroll, please––is protein!
Foods high in protein and amino acids can be protective against cognitive decline. You know protein as the meaty/beany/nutty/cheesy foods that make you feel full and help you build muscle mass. Amino acids are the molecular building blocks that when combined, make up these proteins. Amino acids help brain cells maintain their function and strength.
As people age, protein intake tends to decline. It’s estimated that 10-25% of adults don’t eat enough protein. Why do people eat less protein as they age? Many different factors can contribute, including less income to afford fresh foods, decreased hunger, oral health problems, and reduction in the ability to taste and smell.
Some research suggests increasing your protein intake can help you sleep better and longer. In studies, groups of people taking amino acid supplements reported less insomnia.
Protein can be found in nuts or meats; in cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products; in a combination of rice and beans (together they make a perfect protein, which can be found in nearly every diet worldwide); in eggs, fish, broccoli, lentils, seeds, and various grains. Those who eat more protein in their diets report better, longer, and deeper sleep than those who don’t. And healthy sleep habits are one of the major cornerstones of keeping your cognition intact. Your brain needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night to reboot and recharge.
So here’s the deal: Increasing your protein intake can boost your brain function. It can also help you get better sleep, which can boost your brainpower, too. So, eating more protein adds up to a double brain boost.