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Diet And Sleep: The Best And Worst Foods For Sleep Health

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • A high glycaemic diet and a diet rich in added sugars may negatively affect sleep. Consuming foods high in processed sugar close to bedtime may lead to insomnia and difficulty staying asleep.
  • Diets high in total, saturated, and trans fats may lead to sleep disturbances and keep you awake at night.
     
  • Aside from caffeine, several other foods and food types may keep people awake and stop them from having good quality, restful sleep.
     
  • Health experts cannot overstate the importance of a good night's sleep.
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Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to focus, think clearly, and process memories.

Most adults require between seven and nine hours of nightly sleep. Children and teenagers need substantially more sleep, particularly if they are younger than five years of age. Work schedules, day-to-day stressors, a disruptive bedroom environment, and medical conditions can all prevent us from receiving enough sleep. A healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure adequate amount of sleep every night, but for some, chronic lack of sleep may be the first sign of a sleep disorder.
 

The Science Behind Sleep

An internal "body clock" regulates your sleep cycle, controlling when you feel tired and ready for bed or refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. After waking up from sleep, you'll become increasingly tired throughout the day. These feelings will peak in the evening leading up to bedtime.
 

This sleep drive - also known as sleep-wake homeostasis - may be linked to adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain. Adenosine levels increase throughout the day as you become more tired, and then the body breaks down this compound during sleep.

Sleep Inducing Foods
 

Light also influences the circadian rhythm. The brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, and a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night.
 

As natural light disappears in the evening, the body will release melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. When the sun rises in the morning, the body will release the hormone known as cortisol that promotes energy and alertness.
 

Adults aged 18 to 60 years are recommended to sleep at least 7 hours each night, otherwise, they run the risk of becoming sleep deprived. Ignoring the importance of sleep may have an impact on your overall health. If you make it a priority, your body will reap the benefits of sleep. When you sleep, your body produces proteins called cytokines that have immune-boosting effects and serve as a fuel for your white blood cells. Lack of sleep decreases the production of cytokines and makes you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.
 

Find your motivation to prioritize sleep by learning about why you need to get a good night's rest.

Diet & Sleep

It seems like everyone struggles with getting enough sleep these days. Even if you do not have a sleep disorder, you do not need any more challenges to get a good night's rest. Practicing good sleep hygiene includes healthy nutrition and choosing your dinners and late-night snacks wisely. When you are sleep deprived, your body alters the levels of hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
 

So, what type of foods should be cut out of your nighttime routine?
 

Types of Foods & Drinks to Avoid Before Bed

Here are eight types of food and drinks that you should avoid eating before getting tucked in for the night.

1. Alcohol

It may seem like a few beers, a couple of glasses of wine or a nightcap helps you fall asleep. Yet, there are three crucial reasons to not drink alcohol, especially in excess, before going to bed.

Alcohol probably does help you doze off, but it interrupts the natural sleep cycle later in the night. This can decrease the amount of restorative REM sleep that you get.
 

Consuming alcohol relaxes all the muscles in the body which can exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea and loud snoring.

The esophageal sphincter is a muscle that's also impacted by alcohol. When this sphincter relaxes, it tends to cause acid reflux.

2. Heavy Foods

Meals which seem to weigh on your stomach actually take longer to digest. Fatty, cheesy and fried foods can lead to indigestion and keep you up at night. Avoid things like cheeseburgers, fries, fried foods and large steaks late in the day.
 

3. Foods with High Water Content

Getting up to go to the bathroom can really disrupt your rest. Of course, drinking plenty of water is an important part of staying healthy, but you want to avoid getting a full bladder in the middle of the night. It is best to steer clear of foods with high water content, including nutritious ones, before bedtime. This includes celery, watermelon, and cucumbers.
 

4. Foods with Hidden Caffeine

We all know that high-caffeine drinks should be avoided before bed as they can lead to sleeplessness, but the same goes for chocolates too. The caffeine content in chocolates may not be as high but it is a 'sneaky devil' because along with caffeine, it also has an amino acid that makes you alert. Rather than at night, have dark chocolate as an energy booster in the day. Many foods have caffeine, and you may not even realize that. Tea and soda are usually caffeinated unless labeled. Plus, some ice creams and desserts have espresso, coffee, or chocolate. Chocolate and other foods with caffeine act as stimulants.

Foods to avoid before bed time
 

5. Super Sugary Treats

Insulin yo-yos wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. That is why you should avoid overly sugary snacks which can cause your blood sugar to spike, then crash. Sugary cereals, desserts, and candy are not good nighttime treats for this reason.
 

Foods that have a high glycemic index (GI) rapidly increase blood sugar levels. These foods include refined carbs like white bread, sweets, and foods with high amounts of added sugars. That said, research on the effects of high GI foods on sleep shows mixed results. Some studies link high GI diets with insomnia and sleeping issues, while others suggest a high GI meal decreases the amount of time it takes for people to fall asleep. There are several reasons why a high glycemic diet and foods high in added sugar and refined grains seem to be associated with poor quality sleep.
 

High GI foods cause significant spikes and drops in blood sugar levels. This triggers your body to release hormones, like adrenaline, cortisol, and growth hormone, which can lead to symptoms like anxiety, hunger, and irritability. Studies show that low blood sugar may reduce sleep efficiency. On the other hand, high blood sugar after a high glycemic meal may initially make you feel sleepy, but the resulting changes in hormone levels, including that of insulin, may cause you to wake up later in the night. High glycemic diets also trigger inflammatory responses in the body and create imbalances in the beneficial intestinal bacterial flora, which may also affect sleep.
 

6. Tyramine-Rich Foods

To increase sleep quality, specialists recommend cutting out foods that have a high amount of tyramine, later in the day. This amino acid causes the brain to release a natural stimulant that facilitates brain activity. This can make falling asleep more challenging. Foods that are rich in tyramine including tomatoes, soy sauce, and eggplant, red wine and aged cheeses should be avoided before bed.
 

7. Acidic Foods

Another trigger for acid reflux is - no surprise - highly acidic food. Food like citrus juice, raw onion, white wine and tomato sauce can disturb sleep by making heartburn worse and therefore, they should be avoided before bed. That is why you may regret eating a slice of pizza before bedtime.
 

8. Foods that Make You Gassy

Some types of cuisine could spell disaster for sound sleep. Foods that are difficult to digest and contain a lot of fiber may cause painful gas. Pressure and cramping caused by too much dried fruit, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts can keep you up late. High-fiber fruits and vegetables are great for your body, but not great for sleep; try to avoid them before bedtime.

Instead, You Should Snack on These Foods…

For most people, going to bed hungry is disastrous for quality rest. So, if you need a snack or late meal before it is time to doze off, try some of these foods for good sleep.
 

They are considered nutritious and good for sleep health because of the inclusion of tryptophan or their natural ability to increase your serotonin or melatonin levels. You might be surprised by some of these sleep-inducing foods.

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain toast
  • Granola
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hummus
  • Chamomile, ginger and passion fruit tea
  • Honey
  • Cherries
  • Bananas
  • Berries

Leafy Vegetables Before Bedtime: Yay or Nay?

  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are very good for health in general but are probably not the best thing to load up on before you head to bed. These vegetables can interfere with your ability to sleep soundly because you're likely still digesting all that fiber while trying to fall asleep. This could lead to digestive troubles. Therefore, eat them earlier in the day so that your body has time to digest them before you lay down for the night.
  • Sleeping poorly? That's no excuse to cut out kale. You should be eating dark leafy greens with dinner. They'll give you plenty of fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics, which help keep your colon clean. And, like spinach, kale is packed with calcium, which helps your body produce sleep-inducing melatonin.

If you have the option between sauteing the chewy greens and eating it raw, it is recommended that you opt for raw greens, because the heat may reduce the food's vitamin C content.

Comfort Foods for Good Sleep

Comfort Foods for Good Sleep
 

  • The ultimate comfort food, the fact that chicken noodle soup is soothing is exactly what makes it such a good bedtime snack. Foods that are comforting (such as chicken soup) can help your nervous system to power down and relax to give your whole body a sense of safety. Plus, soup is easy for the body to digest, so you won't be kept up with indigestion. If you're going the store-bought route, opt for a lower-sodium option. Too much salt can keep you wide awake.
  • Sweet potatoes contain B6 which boosts mood and melatonin which prepares you for sleep, so eating sweet potatoes help you feel both relaxed and sleepy. Plus, the veggie is fibrous, so you don't have to worry about waking up hungry in the middle of the night. How's that for a win-win?
  • Keep aside whatever's left of the white rice portion that came with your last sushi or Chinese meal. Eating rice before bed can decrease the time that it takes to fall asleep, according to Richards. "White rice is high in carbohydrates, which are thought to promote a sense of fullness and restfulness." And, it also has a high glycemic index, which is thought to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
     
  • Forking into a fish dinner before bed is a great way to ensure that you get a good night's rest. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines contain both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, nutrients important for the regulation of serotonin, which regulates sleep.

Conclusion

If you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, avoiding certain foods and beverages may help. Studies have linked caffeinated foods and beverages, added sugar, fried food, spicy foods, acidic foods, high-fat foods, and alcohol to poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration and they absolutely should be avoided before bed.
 

To promote restful sleep and minimize the chances of waking up at night, consider limiting or avoiding the foods and beverages on this list, especially later in the day and before bedtime.
 

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Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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