Many of us blame our difficulty sleeping on outside factors, when it is usually the result of our own poor food intake decisions. Because many individuals who are overweight or obese report having problems sleeping or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, it is evident that these factors are somehow correlated. 1 An individual’s diet can have a great effect on his or her sleep pattern which can, in turn, affect your ability to exercise because of lack of energy. The viscous cycle can be avoided by getting more sleep and eating properly in order to do so.
Ever heard of drinking warm milk before bed? Certain foods help you sleep much easier, such as foods with Tryptophan like milk and other dairy products. Additionally, honey, seeds and nuts are Tryptophan-rich and assist in inducing sleep. 2 Carbohydrates also complement the Tryptophan in dairy products, so an ideal bedtime snack would be cheese and crackers and a small glass of warm milk or a small bowl of cereal with milk.
Avoid eating a large meal or spicy foods within four or five hours of when you plan to go to sleep. Doing this can cause those with acid reflux to experience nighttime heartburn and discomfort as the digestion process will be continued into sleep, which may result in the need for a trip to the bathroom. This discomfort can also be avoided with the use of certain pillows to elevate the upper body or with an adjustable bed. This reveals another reason to avoid having your last meal of the day as the largest. This is also because eating too large, too late in the day does not give the body adequate time to burn calories.
Avoid too much protein too close to bedtime. Heavy meats can help avoid hunger pangs at night, but will be harder to digest. They also inhibit transfer of Tryptophan to the brain, resulting in more alertness. 3
Alcohol should never be consumed to help you sleep. Although it may cause you to feel more tired as a big meal would, its negative effects don’t truly occur until the sleep cycle commences and it causes you to wake up more, have a headache and can increase the likelihood you will develop sleep apnea. 3
Avoid all caffeine within four to six hours of when you plan to go to sleep. This, quite obviously, has the ability to keep you up at night and disrupt the sleep cycle. Be aware of foods and drinks with hidden caffeine in them such as some over the counter medications. Many pain relievers, cough medicines, diuretics and weight loss pills tend to contain small amounts of caffeine that can have a large impact on your sleep. 2 Additionally, look out for foods and drinks that you wouldn’t associate with caffeine such as chocolate and tea that can still contain high amounts of sugar that will prevent you from sleeping.
1. National Sleep Foundation—Diet, Exercise and Sleep, http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/diet-exercise-and-sleep
2. WebMD—Foods That Help or Harm Your Sleep, http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/ss/slideshow-sleep-foods
3. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.