Most of us know sleep is important, and there has been plenty of research showing how serious it is when we don’t get enough. Health concerns from lack of sleep range from cognitive problems right through to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.1
People often say “Don’t eat before bed – it will turn straight into stored fat.” This is an over-simplification and often inaccurate. If you are hungry, eat something, because if you don’t you may wake in the middle of the night needing a sugar fix.
There’s a lot of discussion around how detrimental lack of sleep is, but the solutions are varied and often ineffective. Of course, when we were younger we may have partied hard and struggled through the day with little sleep. We would fall back on “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “You’re only young once”. Thankfully, when I was hitting the town all the time I was always a pretty good sleeper. I would perhaps have a good few lie-ins to make up for late nights, but I was never a restless sleeper. For this, I am eternally grateful because if I have a rare night of poor sleep now, I certainly know about it!
There are many factors that play a huge role in improving quality of sleep. Food choices, stress levels, and spending time outdoors all play a part. I could delve into details on the benefits of being out in the fresh air or meditation to help with sleep, but in this article I’ll be focusing on food.
What Foods Help or Hinder Sleep?
People often say “Don’t eat before bed – it will turn straight into stored fat.” This is an over-simplification and often inaccurate. If you are hungry, eat something, because if you don’t you may wake in the middle of the night needing a sugar fix. It’s about making sensible choices – perhaps chowing down on a tub of ice cream isn’t the best choice! Something like a few apple slices and almond butter to get rid of the hunger and help send you off to sleep is a great idea. That being said if you’ve had a good hearty dinner, snacking probably won’t be necessary so try not to mindlessly eat just for the sake of it. Listen to your body’s natural signals – it’s pretty smart and will tell you when you are truly hungry.
5 Poor Pre-Bed Food Choices
- Excessive alcohol. Of course most of us like a little tipple every now and again, and often it does send us off to sleep. Unfortunately the sleep you experience is usually restless. You may not think you have woken up, but the way you feel the next day will indicate that there was insufficient deep sleep during the night.
- Sugary cereal. This will push your blood sugar up right before bed and you may have trouble drifting off to sleep. You may also find yourself waking in the middle of the night as your glucose levels drop again. You really want your glucose levels nice and even before and during sleep.
- Chocolate. In this instance I mean the low-cocoa, sugary type. This will have a similar effect as the cereal and it also contains caffeine, so if you are sensitive it could act as a stimulant right when you want the opposite to be happening.
- Hot and spicy food. These can boost the metabolic rate,2 which is great at lunch time, but not so much when you want to go to bed. Also some people just don’t do well with spicy food and may experience indigestion.
- Ice cream. This is high in sugar and fat. The sugar will keep your glucose levels high and the fat is slow to digest.
5 Better Pre-Bed Food Choices
- Chamomile tea. This drink has been used since ancient times, and is still very popular today. It contains phytochemicals that may have a therapeutic effect.3
- A few almonds. A small amount of fat won’t be difficult to digest and they are a great satiating food.
- Dark chocolate. Choose 75% and above and have just one or two squares. A little of something sweet will satisfy the urge, but it’s quite tricky to overeat dark chocolate.
- Stir-fry dinners. Make a turkey or chicken stir-fry with no chillies. Poultry contains high levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, the hormone that helps to induce sleep.4
- Greek yogurt and berries. Use dairy yoghurt if you tolerate it, or try coconut yoghurt as a dairy-free alternative.
It’s important not to ignore your hunger signals before bed; if you are truly hungry have a little snack. Make smart choices and it shouldn’t affect your quality of sleep. As always, it is important to have everything else dialled in – it’s great if you eat an amazing diet, but if you still aren’t getting quality sleep it is work looking at other areas of your life. I have recently pre-ordered Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stephenson, which I’m expecting will provide even more tips for a better night sleep. I look forward to writing a review once I’ve read it!
What do you eat just before turning in? Do you notice a difference in your sleep if you eat too soon before bed? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!
- Orzeł-Gryglewska, J. (2010). Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 23(1), 95–114.
- Chaiyata, P., Puttadechakum, S., and Komindr, S. (2003) Effect of Chili Pepper (Capsicum frutescens) Ingestion on Plasma Glucose Response and Metabolic Rate in Thai Women. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 86(9), 854–860.
- Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., and Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine of the Past with Bright Future’, 3(6). Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/ (Accessed 12 March 2016).
- Fukushige, H., Fukuda, Y., Tanaka, M. et al. (2014). Effects of Tryptophan-rich Breakfast and Light Exposure During the Daytime on Melatonin Secretion at Night, Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 33. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4247643/ (Accessed 12 March 2016).