Eat Well to Sleep Well, Says Science

The link between eating habits and mental and physical wellbeing doesn’t need much elaboration. But did you know that what, how, and when you eat could alter sleep behavior, too?

Your dietary habits could rob you of a well-rested slumber, says research. So, adopting healthy eating practices could be more important than you may think to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Stick to a healthy diet

A balanced diet with the right nutrients is essential for brain health. It helps your brain to stay active and direct your body’s sleep-wake process. And certain food, in particular, are linked to sleep health. For example, studies show that fatty fish, fruits like Kiwi, milk, fiber-rich foods such as whole grains can all support better sleep quality. Whereas, a high intake of acidic foods, confectionery, and saturated fats could lead to less restorative sleep due to various reasons. Citrus, for instance, could cause acid reflux and heartburn and thereby disrupt your slumber. So, a balanced diet with the right food is essential to wake up feeling well-rested.

2. Avoid excessive eating patterns

According to research, overeating habits could trigger nighttime sleep deprivation. For instance, have you ever wondered why you feel sleepy after a heavy lunch? One reason is that a large meal can activate serotonin. It’s an important chemical to regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which could get severely disrupted when serotonin is released during the daytime in an irregular pattern. Not only that, but overeating could also increase the risks of sleeping disorders like sleep apnea.

3. Choose a light dinner

The digestive process continues while you sleep, although at a very slow pace. However, a heavy dinner could place an extra strain on this process and could prevent your body from properly digesting food and absorbing nutrients. This can lead to indigestion, symptoms of which could cause sleep disturbances.

So, managing your portions and sticking to a light dinner is essential to get a well-rested sleep. Eat slowly and chew properly to help the digestive process. And eat less of foods that take longer to digest, such as beans and stakes. Also, avoid going to bed straight after your meals and plan for a minimum 3-hour gap between dinner and bedtime.

4. Curb your sugar cravings

When you consume sugary foods, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to regulate sugar levels. And frequent sugar intake could cause irregularities in insulin release. This could upset the circadian rhythm, which regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Moreover, eating sugary snacks before bedtime could provide an extra boost of energy and keep you alert and awake during the night.

But it doesn’t stop there. According to a study by Université Libre de Bruxelles, sleep deprivation could lead to insulin resistance and increase blood sugar levels, too.

5. Choose the right spices

Spicy food could lead to an increase in body temperature and nighttime heartburn, too, ultimately causing sleep interruptions. However, not all spices are “spicy” and some of them could help you sleep better. For example, Eastern Ayurvedic medicine uses cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, and saffron to help digestion and promote sleep health. You can easily infuse these spices into milk or herbal tea for a warm bedtime drink.

6. Avoid late-night snacking

Grabbing a tub of ice cream or reaching out for that left-over pizza slice in the middle of the night is not just bad for your health. It could also keep you from a good quality slumber. Nighttime snacks can re-activate the digestive system, create heartburn, and trigger other physiological activities that could severely disrupt sleep.

7. Stay off caffeine

Research suggests that consuming caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime can reduce sleep by more than 1 hour. This type of effect is not only limited to coffee. It can extend to other caffeine sources such as colas, chocolates, energy drinks, and caffeine-containing medication.

Caffeine is well known for its stimulant properties. It can temporarily increase adrenaline production and boost alertness. Although you may see its stimulant effects within just a few minutes, it can take up to 5–6 hours to halve the caffeine in the body. So, staying clear of it well before nighttime could be a smart idea to achieve uninterrupted sleep.

8. Drink less water closer to bedtime

Keeping yourself hydrated during the day is essential for a healthy mind and body. But drinking water closer to bedtime could mean waking up in the middle of the night for a bathroom visit. Consuming lots of food with high water content, such as watermelons, cucumbers, and celery could have a similar effect.

9. Minimize alcohol

For years, alcohol-based nightcaps have been popular for their sedative effects. But, while they may help sleep faster, they can also disrupt the circadian rhythm and deprive you of a well-rested sleep. And research shows that alcohol could increase the risks of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, too. So, stave off daily drinking habits, especially during the evening, if you want to improve your sleep quality.

10. Stay clear of nicotine

Nicotine could have a similar effect as alcohol on your sleep health. It works as a stimulant and could upset the circadian rhythm, interrupt sleep at night, and affect your overall sleep quality. In fact, studies have found that people who smoke are 4 times more likely to report restless sleep compared to non-smokers. Nicotine could even lead to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia; all the more reason to quit smoking.

The bottom line is, your relationship with food has a far greater saying on your mental and physical wellbeing than you could possibly imagine. So, it’s time to take note, not just for the sake of your sleep health but also to lead a healthier and happier life.