How Diet Affects Sleep Quality

Have you ever considered that your diet might be the reason you are having trouble sleeping?

While most of us will struggle with sleep at some point in our lives, the usual factors are health or stress related. But did you also know that your diet can also have a big effect on your sleep? If you haven’t done so already, check out our relaxation guide or visit our sleep disturbance page.

How Diet Affects Sleep Quality

A healthy diet is important for many aspects of health. But one aspect you might not have considered is sleep. When you eat a healthy diet, you’re in a better position to sleep well.

An overall healthy diet is a good place to start, but there are some specific concerns you should consider. For example, caffeine consumption, and what time you’re eating large meals.

How Diet Can Support Healthy Sleep

Typically, the foods considered healthy for an overall good diet are considered healthy for sleep, too. Dairy, lean protein, nuts, complex carbohydrates and whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all considered foods that can help you sleep.

Specifically, you can benefit from foods that are rich in calcium, magnesium, melatonin, carbohydrates, tryptophan, and B6. For example, milk, cheese, nuts, potatoes, leafy greens, whole grains, tomatoes, cherries, and bananas are all considered good choices for sleep.

Common Sleep Pitfalls Cause By Diet

But diet can be an issue for sleep, too. And it can get in the way of healthy sleep even if you’re otherwise practising good sleep habits like a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule, and a comfortable sleep environment.

If you’re consuming foods that are all wrong for sleep, you’ll struggle. These can include caffeine containing foods like coffee, or alcohol, fatty foods, sugary foods, and spicy foods.
Consuming alcohol before bed might help you fall asleep faster, but you’ll sacrifice sleep quality. Under the influence, you’ll experience lighter sleep and will be more susceptible to waking up during the night.

Most people understand that caffeine can be too stimulating for healthy sleep. But caffeine has a long half-life of about 5 or 6 hours, so that afternoon coffee you’re enjoying could carry your increased energy all the way to bedtime. It’s a good idea to avoid consuming caffeine (in coffee, chocolate, cocoa, or other caffeine-containing foods) after 3 p.m.

Junk foods loaded with sugar or fat are overall a bad idea. But they can be an especially bad idea for sleep. Too much sugar could wind you up just like caffeine, and foods with too much fat can be disruptive for your circadian rhythm and overall sleep.

While spicy food can be delicious, it could wreck your sleep if you’re eating it too late in the day or evening. The capsaicin in spicy foods can increase your body temperature, while your body needs to lower its temperature to sleep. And if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, laying down to go to bed could trigger attacks.

Should You Eat Before Bed?

No matter what you’re eating, a large meal before bed could be a problem, too. When you try to go to bed on a full stomach, you might feel physical discomfort. And even if you’re actually able to fall asleep, you might still struggle with sleep quality as your body devotes energy to digestion instead of focusing on rest.

While eating an especially large meal just before bed could spell trouble for sleep, you also don’t want to go to bed on an empty stomach. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re hungry, and you might remain vigilant at night as your body looks for feeding opportunities. In other words, going to bed on an empty stomach could mean you don’t fall into a good, deep, and restorative sleep.

So it’s important to strike a healthy balance. While you shouldn’t eat a huge meal before bed, a light snack is a good idea. A healthy dinner is supportive of healthy sleep, and if you’re feeling a bit hungry before bed, go ahead and have a small, healthy snack to tide you over and help you sleep well.

Overall, you should support healthy sleep with a healthy diet throughout the day. Take care to avoid sleep pitfalls with alcohol, caffeine, and other foods that could cause a problem with sleep, and pay attention to the timing and level of consumption when you’re eating food at night.

Jackie Kepler is a sleep professional. She enjoys sleeping with cats, but sleeps on a king size bed because she needs her space, too.

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