Inside Scoop: We don’t often think of food and sleep being related, but what you eat and drink can be the secret to a good night’s sleep.
This post was submitted by Rebecca Smith, calisthenics instructor and Countingsheep.net editor.
Just like sleeping, eating, and drinking are some of our primary and mandatory needs, but did you know that your food and drink choices can sabotage your sleep? Sleep researchers have been working hard to find out what are all the things that can have an impact on the quality of our sleep, and surprisingly, the things we are drinking and eating are also on their list.
This relationship works both ways, food and drinks we consume can affect our sleep, but also our choice of food and beverage is based on the amount and quality of the sleep we get. And, apart from creating a good nighttime routine here are the food and sleep habits to incorporate as well as avoid for a good night’s sleep.
How Lack of Sleep Affects Our Choice of Food
When we are tired and sleep deprived, we tend to make choices that we usually would not make; hence, we opt for food, which we typically would not consume.
Sleep deprivation plays a significant role in our food cravings, we tend to eat more often and irregular, and there is an intense desire for snacking or high-fat and sugary food. Also, we eat fewer vegetables, and focus on friend and calorie dense foods; hence, it is clear why there is a strong connection between sleep deprivation and obesity.
Many people who are already diagnosed with sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea, struggle with making good food choices. One of the things they can do to improve their condition is to become more physically active and start consuming those foods and beverages that can induce and improve sleep.
How Food and Drinks Impact Sleep
Although scientifically it is much more well understood how sleep impacts our choice of food than vice versa, there are still some pieces of evidence which support this connection both ways.
For example, consuming highly processed and poor quality foods such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods, energy drinks, sweets and instant noodles are connected to lower sleep quality. On the other hand, high-quality carbohydrates and healthy fats, such as whole grains, beans, vegetables and fish, can help with improving the overall quality of sleep. If you want to fully commit to a specific diet to improve your sleep, the best is to try an eating plan that follows the Mediterranean food programme.
Besides this, foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan may help with balancing our melatonin and serotonin levels and promoting sleep.
When it comes to drinks, caffeine is the number one sleep disruptor, since it is such a strong stimulant, and stays in our system for up to six hours. It is recommended to avoid drinking it during the late afternoon hours, in order to maintain a healthy sleep routine (you can check out these healthy coffee alternatives). Although alcohol may seem like a sleep inducer because it helps us relax and get sleepy, it prevents us from reaching that deep phase of sleep and hinders the sleep process.
Food And Sleep: What Are The Best & Worst Choices
Best Food for Sleep
It is important to stay realistic and not to expect miracles to happen after a few healthy meals since it takes time to notice improvements in sleep. Changing your eating habits can be challenging since, in a way, it is a change of lifestyle, so it is vital to remain patient and consistent on your journey to better sleep.
Here are our recommendations for best foods for sleep that can not only induce sleepiness, but also improve your overall sleeping experience:
- Mediterranean food or diet containing less processed food and red meat; instead, the focus is on a lot of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil.
- Foods that contain high-quality carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole grain cereals, breads, or oats.
- Fresh, seasonal fruits, and vegetables should become a mandatory part of your eating plan. Cherries, bananas, pomegranates, avocado, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, etc. are all high on the sleep promoting list of fruits and veggies.
- Foods that contain vitamin B6 are also important because this vitamin impacts the level of serotonin in our body, and a lack of it can lower the level of serotonin so much that it can trigger insomnia. Highest amounts of this vitamin can be found in fish, meat, pistachio, and sunflower seeds.
- Protein-rich foods that contain tryptophan can be very beneficial for your sleep as they help your body produce serotonin. Some of these foods are eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, cheese, sesame and pumpkin seeds, peanuts, tempeh and tofu.
Foods and Drinks to Avoid Before Bedtime
There are a lot of things that can hinder your sleep routine and kick your circadian rhythm out of balance. Eating and drinking certain things late at night can seriously harm your health and sleep pattern, which is why we advise avoiding or at least reducing the consumption of the following products before bedtime.
- Anything that contains caffeine, from coffee and energy drinks to dark chocolate and sweets, should be avoided during the late evening hours because it will interfere with your sleep.
- Spicy foods are delicious, but they often tend to cause heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion for many people, which is why it is not the best idea to eat something spicy before going to bed. Laying down in bed can worsen the heartburn because it enables the acids to increase and reach the esophagus, burning the delicate lining.
- Drinking too much liquid, even water, before going to bed is not a good idea because you will have to wake up to go to the bathroom. The same applies to foods that contain a lot of water, for example, watermelon or celery, especially since they are known as natural diuretics.
- Alcohol is another type of drink to avoid before going to bed. Although many who like to have a nightcap would probably disagree with that, since at first alcohol can quickly make us sleepy, but during the night it hinders our sleep and prevents us from entering the deep sleep phase.
- Foods that contain a lot of inflammatory fats can put our orexin levels out of balance, and cause disorders of the circadian rhythm. Orexin is a neurotransmitter in charge of regulating our sleep and wake cycle; hence, it plays an important role in our sleep process. But besides that, high-fat processed foods can also cause heartburn and acid reflux.
As you have read, food and sleep have so much in common and the things we consume can either work for our sleep or against it. If you already have some sleep disturbances, perhaps you can try adopting some of these changes to your diet and see how you feel.
What else have you tried to help with getting a restful night?
Rebecca Smith started calisthenics at age 26 as a means to lose weight and tone her body. After completing her first successful muscle up, the amazing feeling inspired her to train further and become a calisthenics instructor. Rebecca also holds a Management Degree and a Diploma in Nutrition. She is also an editor at Countingsheep.net, and loves writing articles related to leading a healthy lifestyle.