Many of us are struggling to get adequate sleep right now, for many reasons. No matter the cause, the loss of just a small amount of sleep can lead to reduced alertness, impaired memory, and moodiness and add up to bigger health problems over time (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, depression, obesity, and reduced immune function). Research also shows that what we eat can have an effect on our sleep patterns — for better or worse. While stress-relief and mindfulness activities such as meditation and yoga can also play a big role in healthy sleep patterns, here are a few simple eating patterns to strive for in order to help get a good night’s rest.
- Fuel throughout the day. Eating too little or skipping meals during daylight hours can lead to larger evening meals, which can easily disrupt sleep. Aim to eat balanced meals (and snacks if needed) consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats every 3-5 hours during the day.
- Know that too much fat or protein before bed may also disrupt sleep. High-fat or high-protein food take longer to digest and digestion slows by nearly half during sleep. Best bet ̶ keep evening meals or snacks to reasonable portions so your body has time to complete its work before rest time.
- Choose power combos for evening snacks. If you’re hungry after dinner, go for a carb/protein combo. Protein helps build tryptophan, the sleep-inducing amino acid, while carbohydrates increase the body’s uptake of it. Think nut butter toast, whole-grain cereal and milk, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, or even edamame, which provides both wrapped into one food.
- Know your caffeine “clock.” Caffeine is a stimulant that can disrupt your zzz’s if it’s still circulating. It takes an average of 5 hours for our bodies to fully metabolize caffeine, but the individual clearance range is much wider from 1.5 to 9-plus hours. For most people it’s enough to go decaf later in the day. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even chocolate!
- Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. While alcohol may initially help you fall asleep faster, research indicates alcohol may also prevent you from reaching the deeper parts of the sleep cycle that are essential to feel rested.
- Spicy and acidic foods can steal sleep. They may lead to heartburn and acid reflux, as well as increased body temperature.
- Add foods that can help you sleep naturally. Almonds, walnuts, and most seeds, some fruits like kiwis, raspberries, pomegranate, grapes, and tart cherries, as well as leafy greens and whole grains all contain melatonin, that hormone that helps regulate the sleep and wake cycle.
Diet alone won’t guarantee a good night’s sleep, but paying attention to what you eat can help you stay longer in dreamland each night.