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Eat Well, Sleep Well: How Diet Affects Your Sleep

So, here you go again….another interrupted and restless night of sleep. Your partner is complaining of your snoring and you are waking often throughout the night. You can’t help but wonder if there is something that you are doing throughout the day or even that evening that is contributing to your nightly frustrations. Was it all those coffees that you had that day, those few wines before bed, or maybe it something that you had eaten? You could be the 4 out of 10 Australian adults that report of insufficient sleep on a daily basis or several days a week(1). And a major contributing factor in resolving your sleep issue could come down to your diet and lifestyle. Together, exercise, diet and getting consistent high-quality sleep can actually help you make better food choices. Research shows that when sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to consume foods high in calories, fat, and sugar. And therefore, the more junk food we eat, the less likely we are to sleep well. In this article, we’ll go over what an optimal sleep-promoting diet should look like, what things to avoid before bed and how to harness your diet to get a great night’s rest.

What Should Your Diet Look Like?

According to Nutrition Australia, eating a balanced diet that follows the Healthy Eating Pyramid is important for good nutrition and overall optimal health(2). The visual guide is supported by scientific evidence to the types and proportion of foods that we should eat every day for good health. Therefore, a sleep-promoting diet is varied and rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and lean proteins and dairy. Ie. The Colours of the Rainbow!

Are there Foods that I should avoid before going to bed?

Just as there are foods that help promote sleep, there are also foods to avoid that can rob you of sleep. Some of these are quite obvious and some not so.

  • Foods and drinks that contain caffeine. Drinks containing caffeine such as coffee and green tea, or even energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull can really help you if you’re feeling tired and just need a little pick-me-up to get the day going. However, it’s not recommended to drink caffeine after lunch (and especially near bedtime), as it can interfere with sleep by keeping your mind overactive. Foods with dark chocolate are also high in caffeine and should be avoided late in the day.
  • Alcohol. Contrary to popular belief alcohol does not help promote sleep. While it can make you drowsy and more likely to fall asleep faster, it often disrupts sleep and can deter you from entering the deeper, much needed phases of the sleep cycles.
  • Spicy foods.  While spicy foods are often delicious and even have many noted health benefits, eating spicy foods too close to bedtime can be a very bad idea. Spicy foods are notorious for causing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux. Heartburn can be made worse while lying down as it allows the acids to creep up into the oesophagus (the muscular tube that connects your throat with your stomach) and burn the sensitive lining.
  • Foods high in fat have been linked to poor, fragmented sleep.  Fat triggers the digestive processes and causes a build-up of stomach acids, which while lying down can creep into the oesophagus causing discomfort. A high fat diet also messes with the production of orexin(3), one of the neurotransmitters that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle along with melatonin.
  • Foods high in protein can also disrupt sleep when eaten too close to bedtime. Protein is tougher for the digestive system to break down. Eating protein rich meals near bedtime causes the body to spend more time working on digestion rather than focusing on sleeping.
  • Foods containing water such as watermelon and celery are natural diuretics which help push water through your system.  Eating these types of foods and drinking anything too close to bedtime can cause you to lose sleep from middle of the night bathroom trips.
  • Heavy meals before bedtime. As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Even eating too much of the recommended foods before bed can cause you to lose sleep because your body is focused on digestion.

The solution is to go to bed with some food in your stomach, but not too much. Try a light snack instead of an all-out food fest. The best light snacks are those that contain tryptophan and calcium(4) such as a bowl of cereal, cheese and crackers, or peanut butter on toast.

So clearly, your diet has a profound impact on numerous aspects of life — so, eat wisely and sleep well. If you’re following these eating tips and other sleep hygiene practices, but still find yourself having trouble sleeping at night, there’s a chance that you could be suffering from a sleep disorder. If you’re regularly having sleep troubles you might want to consult with your GP to get to the root of the problem.

Further Information

  1. treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-03/360985-Sleep-Health-Foundation-and-Australasian-Sleep-Association.pdf
  2. www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/eat-rainbow
  3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279673/
  4. www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/163169#1

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