There’s no point in me telling you that you are what you eat; that information will come as no surprise to a knowledgeable foodie like your good self. However, you may be surprised to learn how your diet can influence your sleep.
Obviously, we all know from experience that knocking back a double espresso before bed is going to play havoc with your slumber. What is less well-known, is that what we eat can also contribute to how well, or how badly, we sleep at night.
Let’s take a look at how various aspects of how your diet can influence your sleep:
The fallacy of the night cap
Let’s start with an easy one – drink.
Thanks to TV and the media, we’ve been conditioned to believe that a few glasses of wine on the couch is the ultimate way to relax in the evening. Unfortunately, though, research indicates that the link between drink and sleep is not a rosy one (or should that be Rosé? Sorry – couldn’t resist!)
Alcohol is a sedative and muscle relaxant, which is why a few drinks in the evening may help you to fall asleep quicker. However, sedation is very different to sleep. Booze and sleep are poor bedfellows because alcohol interferes with the deep ‘slow-wave’ sleep that comes later on into the night. This is the truly rejuvenating kind of sleep that enables us to powers through the next day. If you drink too much alcohol, you’re effectively destroying the re-energising power of sleep, kind of like weakening a good whiskey by serving it with too much ice.
So, perhaps it’s time we put a cap on the good ol’ nightcap!
Protein in your pyjamas
Protein-heavy meals are hard work for the body. They take quite a long time for the digestive system to breakdown and digest.
Meat is heavy in protein. Having a meat-filled meal in the evening actually gears up your digestive system, giving it a whole host of work to do at the exact time you want your body to be entering a more relaxed state. With all that churning going on inside your gut, the chances of you drifting off to sleep promptly are reduced. If you’re serious about addressing how your diet can influence your sleep, reduce your protein intake before bed.
It’s not just meat eaters who need to watch the timing of their meal either, as veggies and vegans get their protein hit from a variety of meat-free sources. A humongous tofu burger or a stonking great bowl of dhal for supper is going to have much the same impact.
Whatever the source, consuming too much protein too late in the day can have a negative influence on how well you sleep.
If you like your spice, you may wish to save the vindaloo for lunchtime too.
The consumption of overly spicy food in the evening confuses the brain by raising your body temperature, when it should be gradually cooling down and getting ready for rest. Plus, it raises the risk of heartburn and indigestion, making for a miserable bedtime story.
A glass of milk before bed
Milk, yoghurt and cheese are all full of calcium; a very useful mineral that our body needs for serotonin production. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that plays a big role in regulating our sleep cycles. Well, the tradition of a warm glass of milk in the evening had to come from somewhere, didn’t it?
That said, dairy doesn’t agree with everyone. If you often find yourself bloated, cramping and pestered by irritating gas in the evening, ditching dairy could do great things for your digestion and might do wonders for you sleep.
Those on a dairy-free diet can still get their calcium fix from so-called sleep-inducers, like almonds and sesame seeds. Supplements can work too, athough they’re not as tasty.
Meat sleepers vs veggie & vegan snoozers
People get strangely passionate about the pros and cons of a plant-based diet. And I’m not about to come down on either side of that particularly electrified fence. For sure, the benefits of only munching down on veggies are diverse, but does the amount of meat you consume affect how you sleep?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Both diets contain sleep enhancers and sleep blockers. The trick is to be aware of what you are putting into your body, and when. It is all about making smart choices.
Just because somebody avoids meat completely, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their diet will ensure they get a good night’s sleep. Conversely, as long as meat-eaters aren’t attempting to polish off a 10oz steak ten minutes before bed, they too could sleep like a baby.
How can your diet influence you sleep? Well, what we’ve established is that what you eat during the day isn’t necessarily as important as when you eat it. Feasting on incredibly healthy foods before bed is probably going to be worse for your sleep than having a big steak at lunch.
So, now you know how your diet can influence your sleep, hopefully now you can make healthier choices to help you get a good night’s rest!