As anyone who has ever had a sleepless night knows, getting a good night's rest is essential for both physical and mental health. And while there are many factors that can affect sleep quality, one thing that often gets overlooked is the role that food plays in our sleep.
So what is it about food that can influence our sleep and how can we use food to get a better night's rest?
We now know that food and our eating habits can affect both our falling asleep process and our sleeping quality during the night, altogether. So let's try and simplify the causes and effects, shall we?
First, let's talk about how food affects sleep. One of the main ways in which food can impact sleep is through its effect on the body's production of certain hormones. For example, melatonin is produced by the body in response to darkness and helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Some foods, such as cherries and almonds, are rich in melatonin and can help to increase its production in the body, which can improve sleep quality.
Yet of course, certain foods and drinks can disrupt our sleep by interfering with the production of melatonin or by stimulating the body's production of other hormones that can keep us awake. A good example of this mechanism will be our dearest friend, caffeine, which is found in coffee (shocking, right?) tea, and some soft drinks. Caffeine stimulates a disruption of our sleep by increasing heart rate and making it more difficult to fall asleep. Similarly, alcohol can also interfere with sleep by disrupting the body's natural sleep-wake cycles.
Another important aspect of this relationship between food and sleep is our body’s resources distribution. During the day our blood supply is divided between many processes: cognitive, metabolic, hormonal, digestive and so much more, which should all be sustained at night, while the organs and tissues get their recovery time. Moreover, while we sleep there are active processes to fix and restore tissue functions and heal both micro and macro damages.
So it sounds almost elementary that having a nice dinner right before going to sleep, is practically “stealing” blood flow from these crucial processes and using it for digestion. And that’s just unfair, isn’t it? Well, fortunately we have much to do in order to make things right!
So, what can you do to use food to promote better sleep? Here are a few tips:
1. Avoid consuming large amounts of caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. It's best to cut off caffeine consumption by the early afternoon, and to limit alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day. By the way, did you know that caffeine is found not only in coffee? It’s being consumed also in many types of tea, cocoa, energy drinks, soft drinks… just a kind recommendation of reading the ingredients list before consumption (:
2. Incorporate foods that are rich in melatonin into your diet. As mentioned above, cherries and almonds, as well as bananas, tomatoes and oats, are all good sources of melatonin.
3. Eat a light, healthy dinner, and try to avoid heavy, rich foods close to bedtime. Large, heavy meals can cause indigestion and discomfort, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. In addition to its effect on your sleeping time, it can also make you uncomfortable pre-bedtime, while trying to fall asleep. But don’t get it wrong, your body needs to get all the nutrients in order to sleep well. Just try and provide it with enough time for digestion while you’re still awake.
Last but not least, don’t try it all at once! Changes are not so easy, and it’s completely fine to choose a gradual pathway, leading to a much more efficient progress and better results over time.
Wishing you both Bon Appetit
And a good night’s sleep