Eating right is important to get your body the energy it needs to power you through your busy day. And what, when, and how much you eat can be just as crucial. The food you eat has a connection to your sleep quality. So if you have been experiencing daytime drowsiness or have trouble knocking off at night, it may be a good idea to check what was on your plate at dinner time.
Food And Sleep: What Is The Connection?
As one study showed, normal healthy adults with no sleep issues had less restorative sleep and woke up more often after eating a diet that was high in sugar and saturated fat but low in fiber. The researchers also found that when these test subjects ate a balanced meal with more protein and lower saturated fat put together by the nutritionist, they also fell asleep much faster. While the controlled meal saw them slumber in about 17 minutes, they took nearly twice as long (29 minutes) when they ate anything they liked.1
Trouble with staying asleep has been linked to diets lacking variety or those with high sodium. This is typical of low-carb diets, fast-food heavy diets, as well as those with inadequate vitamin D, lycopene, and water/moisture. Non-restorative sleep, on the other hand, is linked to inadequate intake of vitamin C, calcium, and water, as well as too much cholesterol or fat in the food.2 Eating wrong can cause a host of sleep-related problems as well as result in conditions like sleep apnea, acid reflux, and indigestion which interrupt your sleep or cause multiple arousals.
What Should You Avoid Eating To Get A Good Night’s Rest?
While eating healthy is always a good idea, there are some types of foods to steer clear of if you want to make the most of your downtime each night.
Fatty, indulgent food is alright once in a way, but be warned that the regular intake of such food can spell doom for your sleep. One study in Australia found that men who ate a high-fat diet experienced more daytime sleepiness and measured higher on the apnea-hypopnea index.3
Caffeine is a great stimulant and keeps you raring to go all day long. However, with a half-life of five hours, it can take hours for it to clear off your system completely. So odd as it may seem, a cup of joe midday could actually be behind your trouble getting to sleep every night. The effects of caffeine also last longer for some people, like pregnant women.4 It has also been linked to insomnia when consumed in higher quantities through the day, or just before bedtime.5
There’s a reason most experienced moms don’t let their children eat sweets, candy, and sugary treats close to bedtime. Sugar is burnt by the body quickly, causing fluctuations in blood glucose levels. This in turn can trigger an adrenaline rush which prevents you from falling asleep.6
Foods like peppers or heavily spiced foods can cause indigestion in some people, causing less than restful sleep. For those with a higher tolerance of spice too, eating this kind of meal close to bedtime can result in more wakeful hours at night. It could also make it harder to fall asleep. Some studies attribute it to the active ingredient capsaicin which may alter body temperature.7
Fast food is a combination of all the things to avoid in a neat little takeout package! Oily, carb-laden, high in saturated fats and sodium, and often accompanied by a sugary caffeine-rich soda or sweet dessert, it has all the ingredients you should steer clear of if you want a good night’s sleep.
Alcohol brings on deep sleep faster, but is a muscle relaxant and increases chances of snoring. After the deep sleep phase, it causes disrupted and restless sleep, contributing to daytime drowsiness.8
Living Without A Siesta
Afternoon naps aren’t a luxury everyone can indulge in. Having a heavy meal at lunchtime can make your drowsy and divert the energy your brain needs to function optimally at work or while running the home. While there’s no beating the body’s circadian rhythms that cause you to feel tired around 2 in the afternoon, you can avoid making it worse. A carb-rich meal can be heavy on the body and make your alertness dip further after lunch.
Daytime sleepiness is also linked to high-calorie diets, special diets, or those very high or too low in fats. When potassium intake through the diet is low or water consumption is inadequate, similar symptoms arise.9
Eat Right: Stay Alert By Day And Sleep Well At Night
A balanced diet could improve your sleep and keep you sharp during the day.
Besides avoiding the foods that could hamper your sleep, you can help your body settle down to sleep with certain foods. Tryptophan is a natural chemical that helps the body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that induces calmness and make you sleepy. One study found that consumption of tryptophan-rich foods along with carbohydrates helped improve multiple sleep parameters.10 Almond milk, eggs, turkey, and chocolate are some dietary sources of tryptophan.
In short, a meal with carbohydrates may not be a bad idea. One study found that dietary carbohydrates boost the plasma concentration of tryptophan and significantly shortened the time for sleep onset. The caveat is that this meal should be eaten about 4 hours before you plan to sleep.11
Ayurveda: The Sleep-Food Connect
Ayurveda recommends having vata balancing foods through the day if your sleep is generally restless and light or if your mind buzzes with thoughts when you’re trying to fall asleep. This is a vata sleep disorder that is helped by consuming warm milk; grains like rice, wheat, oats, and quinoa; cooked beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, and asparagus; nuts and oils.12 13
A kapha sleep disorder causes someone who has regular, uninterrupted sleep to still wake up feeling exhausted and experience dullness through the day. Go easy on the salt, avoid nuts, have honey and eat lots of vegetables (except for zucchini, tomato, sweet potato, and cucumber); grains like barley, buckwheat, couscous, and polenta; beans and lentils.14 [/ref] 15
In all cases, the last meal of the day needs to be consumed before 7 pm, allowing the body adequate time for digestion before sleep. It is also suggested that the biggest meal of the day be consumed before noon.
|↑1||St-Onge, M. P., A. Roberts, A. Shechter, and A. R. Choudhury. “Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2015).|
|↑2, ↑9||Grandner, Michael A., Nicholas Jackson, Jason R. Gerstner, and Kristen L. Knutson. “Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients.” Journal of sleep research 23, no. 1 (2014): 22-34.|
|↑3||Cao, Yingting, Gary Wittert, Anne W. Taylor, Robert Adams, and Zumin Shi. “Associations between Macronutrient Intake and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea as Well as Self-Reported Sleep Symptoms: Results from a Cohort of Community Dwelling Australian Men.” Nutrients 8, no. 4 (2016): 207.|
|↑4||Medicines in my Home: Caffeine and Your Body, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑5||Caffeine, University of Rochester.|
|↑6||Jones, Timothy W., Walter P. Borg, Susan D. Boulware, Gregory McCarthy, Robert S. Sherwin, and William V. Tamborlane. “Enhanced adrenomedullary response and increased susceptibility to neuroglycopenia: mechanisms underlying the adverse effects of sugar ingestion in healthy children.” The Journal of pediatrics 126, no. 2 (1995): 171-177.|
|↑7||Edwards, Stephen J., Iain M. Montgomery, Eric Q. Colquhoun, Jo E. Jordan, and Michael G. Clark. “Spicy meal disturbs sleep: an effect of thermoregulation?.” International Journal of psychophysiology 13, no. 2 (1992): 97-100.|
|↑8||Ebrahim, Irshaad O., Colin M. Shapiro, Adrian J. Williams, and Peter B. Fenwick. “Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 37, no. 4 (2013): 539-549.|
|↑10||Hudson, Craig, Susan Patricia Hudson, Tracy Hecht, and Joan MacKenzie. “Protein source tryptophan versus pharmaceutical grade tryptophan as an efficacious treatment for chronic insomnia.” Nutritional neuroscience 8, no. 2 (2005): 121-127.|
|↑11||Afaghi, Ahmad, Helen O’Connor, and Chin Moi Chow. “High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85, no. 2 (2007): 426-430.|
|↑12, ↑14||Telles, Shirley, Shivangi Pathak, Ankur Kumar, Prabhat Mishra, and Acharya Balkrishna. “Ayurvedic Doshas as Predictors of Sleep Quality.” Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research 21 (2015): 1421.|
|↑13, ↑15||Loux, Renée. The Balanced Plate: The Essential Elements of Whole Foods and Good Health. Rodale, 2006.|