Nutrition the key to a better night's sleep in pregnancy?

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New research has found women who have more of the amino acid tryptophan in their blood are more likely to sleep better during pregnancy. 

Professor Keith Godfrey and colleagues in Singapore have published in the Journal of Affective Disorders their discovery that women who had higher levels of tryptophan in their blood during pregnancy tended to sleep better. Meat, fish, dairy foods, nuts and seeds are rich sources of tryptophan, raising the possibility that a mother’s diet and nutrition may influence their sleep during pregnancy.

Their results suggest that having enough tryptophan during pregnancy may be particularly important for women showing signs of anxiety, as the benefits were most apparent in this group.

This is the latest finding from the long-term Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study, looking at the health of pregnant women and their young children.

Eating to improve sleep

What we eat can have a strong affect on our mood, and a poor diet can affect our mental wellbeing and contribute to anxiety and depression. While this study did not measure how much tryptophan the pregnant women ate, a diet rich in tryptophan can increase blood tryptophan levels.

Tryptophan is an amino acid the body uses to help make serotonin, which is known to modulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite. However, this is the first study to investigate how the amount of tryptophan a woman has in her blood affects sleep in pregnancy.

Tryptophan in pregnancy

The researchers gave 572 pregnant women three questionnaires to complete, for the first time when they were 26-28 weeks pregnant, and again three months after they gave birth; the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.

To measure the women’s tryptophan levels, they also took blood samples at 26-28 weeks. They found that women with more tryptophan in their blood reported a 12% lower prevalence of poor sleep quality during pregnancy.

Women with anxiety symptoms tended to have less tryptophan in their blood, suggesting they could potentially benefit most from increasing the amount of tryptophan in their diet.

Posted on Thursday 5 October 2017