oatmeal and nuts

If you’re struggling to be focused and productive during your day, especially with the added distractions from our current norm, it’s important to consider the sleep you’re getting. And while we don’t always connect the two, what and how you eat certainly play a role in your quality of sleep. By making more mindful choices, you could be waking up refreshed and able to be efficient throughout your day.

How are food and sleep related?

For years, we heard how REM sleep is the best sleep – that when we’re dreaming we are sleeping at our best. But now we read about non-REM sleep, which is the deeper, more restorative kind of sleep. This precious non-REM sleep seems more “available” during the earlier hours of the night, before midnight, according to “What’s the Best Time to Sleep?” (TIME Magazine, April 27, 2017).

If you’re not getting enough of the hardcore restorative sleep daily, the resulting sleep deprivation can stack up like a pile of unpaid bills, making it hard to catch up. These ‘bills’ may surface as worsened allergies, brain fog or difficulty concentrating, but also as digestive issues, serious mental health matters and worse.

It’s no news flash that some foods, especially those with sugar and caffeine, can thwart your quality of sleep. But also consider, if you’re eating foods – even healthy ones – that aren’t serving your body, then those foods may be making your allergies, concentration or digestion worse, and therefore lowering the quality of your sleep.

It can become a vicious cycle.

Which foods don’t serve quality sleep?

  • Caffeine. You know to avoid caffeine close to bedtime. But did you know caffeine effects can linger for up to 8 hours? That means if you go to bed at 10pm, you shouldn’t have caffeine (chocolate, tea, coffee, soda) after 2pm. Granted, caffeine does not affect everyone the same. But even if caffeine does not keep you from falling asleep, it might be interrupting your sleep.
  • Alcohol. Though a depressant, effects from alcohol can wear off, also interrupting your much-needed restorative sleep. 
  • Sugar. Of course, sugar also provides a quick energy rush and then crash, only adding to sleep issues. Avoid choosing apples and other high-sugar fruits before bedtime.
  • Cashews tend to boost energy, so also leave those for a mid-day snack.
  • Maca powder and cardamom boost your energy – and also make a better mid-day option.
  • Other foods you’re sensitive, too. If you have any chronic symptoms, consider using a food journal for 2-3 weeks to identify any foods that may be causing headaches, indigestion, skin issues, lack of concentration and so much more. An intolerance or sensitivity is different from, and not detected as, an allergy. You’ve got to listen to your body. Dairy, gluten, tree nuts, caffeine and nightshades are all common food triggers, which often go undetected.

If you must, choose these foods before bedtime

Be mindful of eating too much before bedtime, especially if trying to lose weight. In small quantities, these foods pair more nicely with sleep.

  • dark leafy greens 
  • walnuts
  • miso
  • turkey or white Albacore tuna 
  • low-sugar yogurt
  • plain oatmeal
  • herbal decaf tea (chamomile, passionflower, valerian) 

How you eat also impacts your sleep quality.

Avoid stuffing yourself at dinnertime. Ideally, do not eat heavy meals within 2-3 hours of your bedtime. 

Much like finding the foods that make you feel your best, find the eating patterns that do, too. Does intermittent fasting work well for you? Do you need to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day? Use that food journal to figure out what works for you.

Water is essential to your health and should be your primary beverage of choice. Ideally, drink half your body weight in ounces of water during the day and then only sip as needed after dinner. This will keep you hydrated without interrupting your sleep with a trip to the bathroom.  

Finally, whether your medicines or supplements are food-based or not, consider the side effects carefully. Can you take the ones that boost energy in the morning and ones that make you sleepy before bedtime? If you wake up stuffy, try taking your allergy remedy before bedtime so it can work its best while you sleep.

Other tips to help you sleep

Time your exercise. Exercise is key to better health and good sleep, but timing is everything. A vigorous workout within 5 to 6 hours of bedtime helps some people sleep better. But for others, it may energize you and disrupt that pre-midnight, non-REM, restorative sleep. 

On the other hand, if you exercise outdoors in the morning, know that 6 to 10am is prime pollen time. If you’re sensitive to pollen, your workout may leave you feeling unrested, regardless of how great of sleep you got. Consider working out inside or later in the day.

Manage your alleriges. Also to protect against allergens, shower pollens off before going to bed, keep your bedroom windows closed at night and stop pressing your snooze button during the morning hours when pollens are at their peak. Instead, get up and moving.

Change your environment. Cooler is better. Keep your bedroom around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Eliminate TVs or other electronics that stimulate you or emit blue light. Also remove desks or work-related items that remind you of things you need to do – tomorrow! Make sure your bedding is clean, supportive and not adding to your allergy symptoms.

Keep a positive mentality. Especially now, it’s easy to get caught up in the how longs, what ifs, if only I’d…and other frustrations you are dealing with while being quarantined. You can choose so many ways to improve your mental health – virtual therapy sessions, meditation and prayer. Also consider writing in a gratitude journal each night before bedtime. Write 3 things you did for your top priority (e.g. health, family, work), the things you accomplished today and at least 3 things you’re grateful for today. It’s a huge comfort before you sleep.

Know your sleep needs and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Use a sleep diary, or even your food journal, to track what amount of sleep lets you wake feeling most rested. 

Right now, you are closer to your foods, bed and home life. Use this opportunity to learn what foods help or hinder your sleep, make lifestyle adjustments and notice how much more productive you feel.