How the Food You Eat Affects Your Sleep

When was the last time you got 7-9 hours of sleep at night?

According to the Center for Disease Control, one-third of adults in the US usually fall short of this recommendation. Another report that reviews multiple studies says as many as 45% of us aren’t getting as much shut-eye as we need. 

So what? Think that it’s nothing a good cup o’ joe can’t fix? Well, while your favorite morning beverage may help you feel more human as you greet the day, when it comes to your overall health, actually getting the sleep your body needs — just like eating healthy and exercising — is a major factor.

Not getting enough quality sleep puts a heavy and sometimes dangerous toll on your body. From memory issues, poor concentration, and mood changes to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, weight gain, and risks for developing diabetes and heart disease, over time lack of sleep can hurt.

If exercise and healthy eating are already part of your regimen, getting the right amount of sleep can make both of those efforts easier and better. Being well-rested supports good energy levels and balance, while it also helps you make better food choices, since sleep deprivation can lead to eating foods with more sugar and fat than is good for your body.

And the food-sleep relationship goes both ways. Research shows that what and when you eat affects your sleep.

Eating less fiber and more saturated fat and sugar can mean lighter, less restorative sleep, even waking up in the night. But if you’re looking for specific sleep-zapping culprits, here’s what to watch out for:

Caffeine

For the same reason you reach for it in the morning, caffeine heroically or frustratingly tells your brain to stop making the chemicals that make you want to sleep. It also increases adrenaline. Just know that caffeine affects everyone differently, so take note of your personal experience.

Alcohol

It’s true that alcohol can knock you out fairly quickly, though it’s the rest of the night that matters. Alcohol blocks REM sleep, which means you don’t get those restorative hours your body needs, and as a result, won’t feel as restful in the morning.

Heavy Spicy or Fatty Foods

Giving your digestive system a big job right before you go to bed isn’t going to make your night easy. Plus, spicy and fatty foods may trigger indigestion, a discomfort that works against your body’s efforts to relax and fall asleep.

Acidic Foods

If you’re already sensitive to reflux-triggering foods like onions, tomatoes, garlic, citrus, dark chocolate and peppermint, definitely avoid them before you lie down at night. When you’re horizontal, you don’t have gravity helping you keep food in your stomach, which can disturb your sleep.

Sugar

Like caffeine, sometimes sugar feels like an ally when you experience a lull during the day. Just know that the energy boost comes with a crash, which might send you for more sugar or caffeine, or perhaps a nap too late in the day, all of which can make it harder to sleep at night.

Water

Not much can tarnish water’s perfect image as the healthy beverage of choice. In fact, if your mouth and nasal passages dry out because you aren’t hydrated enough it might lead to snoring, which can mess with a good night’s sleep. However drinking too much water close to bedtime may have you up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. 

Keep in mind that timing is everything. Eating too late not only can exacerbate indigestion, but it messes with your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that keeps all your bodily functions on schedule. Eating a big meal earlier in the day gives your body more time to digest the food and burn calories.

Since going to bed hungry may be nearly as distracting, reach for small snacks that are more sleep-friendly.

  • Foods with the amino acid tryptophan are a good choice because it helps your body make melatonin and serotonin, which help you sleep. Find tryptophan in turkey, eggs, chicken, fish, and nuts.
  • Tart cherry juice is also a natural source of melatonin.
  • Complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat toast and oatmeal trigger the release of serotonin.
  • In addition to melatonin, almonds are also a good source of magnesium, which is important for quality sleep.
  • A couple kiwis — filled with serotonin and antioxidants — make a great bedtime snack.

Depending on the day you’ve had, the food you’ve eaten, and so many other variables in your life, good, healthy sleep can be hard to come by. But we do know that your digestive health plays a big role. While scientists are just beginning to make the connection between gut health and good sleep, research already shows that prebiotics and probiotics, which are good for your gut, can be a big help. One easy way to make sure you’re getting them is with a digestive enzyme supplement with prebiotics and probiotics in it.

Paying attention to what you eat and when you eat it, giving yourself a little extra help with a supplement that’s designed to support your digestive health, and trying some easy sleep-hacks are important paths leading you back to dreamland.


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