These Are the Best—and Worst—Eating Habits for Sleep
According to health experts.
Health experts have made it known that our overall wellness is affected by a symbiotic relationship between sleep, diet, and exercise, so it should be no surprise that scientists have found a good night’s sleep is directly related to what we eat.
According to Teofilo Lee-Chiong, MD, sleep expert and chief medical liaison at Philips Sleep and Respiratory Care, the foods we eat directly affect our gastrointestinal activity, neurotransmitters, and our post-prandial insulin response—and all of these processes play into whether or not we have a restful or restless night of shuteye. "The time and regularity of meals can affect your quality of sleep and metabolism, too," he says.
So, what are the best—and worst—eating habits for sleep? Read on for Dr. Lee-Chiong’s recommendations for how to give your body the R&R it deserves.
Establish a routine.
Follow a regular meal routine throughout the day and avoid snacking between meals and after dinner. “Eating irregularly has been described to be associated with poor sleep quality, and this relationship may be bidirectional,” says. Dr. Lee-Chiong. This means that a lack of sleep may also cause you to make rash decisions come mealtime: self-control requires optimal brain function, after all. Any of us who have ever groggily gone overboard on the morning-after doughnuts and immediately regretted it—did I really need to give myself another reason to need a nap?—know this struggle all too well.
According to Dr. Lee-Chiong, the opposing scenario (i.e., suddenly cutting back on food) can also be detrimental to your circadian rhythm. “Making drastic changes in caloric intake, food choices, and nutrients can lead to sleeplessness,” he says. “The resulting hunger and other unpleasant gastrointestinal sensations aren’t doing your body any favors.” Bottom line: the more routine your eating habits are, the better.
Stop eating one to two hours before bedtime.
Pre-bedtime eating can disrupt sleep, particularly in those who do not typically eat before bedtime. This is mostly due to discomfort related to gastric activity, which is particularly problematic if you have digestive issues like acid reflux. Individuals who habitually eat before bedtime due to work or school schedules should eat moderately and try to avoid large meals.
Eat plenty of protein.
Dr. Lee-Chiong recommends choosing a diet high in protein over a high-fat diet. A high-protein diet is associated with improved sleep quality, whereas high-fat diets may have a negative impact on total sleep time. In addition, certain foods, such as milk, cherries, and kiwifruit, have been reported in some studies to have sleep-promoting effect.
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Skip the nightcap, and all sources of caffeine.
Consuming alcoholic beverages, energy drinks, or foods and drinks containing caffeine (like dark chocolate, tea, coffee and cocoa drinks) before going to bed is a big no-no. “Due to its sedative effects, habitual use of alcohol before bedtime is common,” says Dr. Lee-Chiong. “But alcohol use can result in increased frequency of vivid dreams and nightmares, worsen snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. It can also (in extreme situations) trigger sleep terrors, sleepwalking, and bedwetting.” And of course, ingesting caffeine close to bedtime can give rise to difficulty going to sleep, as well as staying asleep.
Avoid eating in front of the television.
Some studies have shown that watching television can influence the amount and selection of food intake. “It is not clear why this occurs, but it’s likely due to the fact that we tend to eat excessively as an unconscious act while distracted by the television. Unhealthy eating behaviors may also be triggered by food advertisements, boredom, or group choices,” explains Dr. Lee-Chiong.