What you eat, and how or when you eat it, can affect how you sleep.
We all know that good food and good sleep are part of a healthy lifestyle – but can one influence the other?
The short answer: absolutely! Good nutrition is an incredibly important part of sleep hygiene, with a good diet facilitating good-quality sleep. But how and why?
The specifics aren’t always clear, even to experts, but the basics seem pretty hard and fast. When it comes to food and sleep, two aspects are extremely important: what you eat and when you eat. Both of these can have a big impact on your ability to get quality sleep at night.
We’ve all heard that what you eat affects everything you do, but it’s especially true for how you sleep. There’s no shortage of foods that have adverse effects on your sleep schedule, such as these:
As with many problems, it’s easier to find bad foods than good foods for sleep. There is no one food or nutrient that’s universally good for helping you get to sleep because the benefits can vary from person to person.
In general, it makes sense to ingest foods that are easier to digest closer to bedtime, since the body will use less energy to digest them. These include complex carbohydrates (such as whole-wheat bread or oatmeal), fruits, and vegetables.
According to the Sleep Foundation, however, some foods might have more benefits than others. Kiwis, sour cherries, malted milk or warmed milk (as long as it’s not full-fat), nuts, and rice might have some sleep benefits due to higher levels of melatonin and other essential nutrients that can help the body relax and prepare for sleep.
So if you must eat a midnight snack, you can help your body by choosing foods that will be easy for your body to digest (such as oatmeal, toast, fruits, or vegetables). For drinks, warm milk (2% or less) and water are your best choices.
Conventional advice tells us not to eat two hours before we go to bed, but in truth our bodies could stand for a little more regulation of every meal.
The National Sleep Foundation found in a 2022 poll that “having consistent meal times is significantly associated with healthier sleep,” with those adults who ate at consistent meal times reporting longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, and (in some cases) less stress than their counterparts.
In addition, the National Sleep Foundation mentions that eating food is an indicator to our body that we’re supposed to be awake and using energy. This can be used to our body’s advantage. For example, a light dinner two to three hours before bedtime can help your body ease into sleep.
But that same indicator can also be used to our body’s detriment. Remember how refined sugar can push hunger feelings to later in the day, often leading to late-night dinners and midnight snacking? Heavy dinners in the evening and midnight snacks can tell your body that it’s supposed to be awake. Cue the confused signals from a tired brain leading to an active body, which leaves you unable to get the sleep you desperately need.
Disruptive eating habits can create disrupted sleep patterns, which can then become a vicious cycle. Some studies suggest that sleep-deprived adults with late bedtimes often consumed more calories later in the evening, which made them more susceptible to weight gain, and that inadequate sleep in healthy adults can increase the desire to overeat.
Do you have a good diet and consistent sleep schedule, but still have trouble getting good sleep? The answer may be that your mattress needs to be replaced.
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