Which Foods are Hindering Your Ability to Sleep?

Can we eat our way to better sleep? Probably not, but we can eat our way to bad sleep.

With food and drink, it’s more of a matter of what to avoid than what to take in. The obvious and all-too-common obstacle to a healthy sleep diet is going between caffeine and sugar all day so we end up tired but wired at night.

Discover the relationship between eating and sleeping with our guide on the do’s and don’ts before bed.

Avoid Eating too Late at Night 

Is it true that we should not eat big meals before bed? Yes, this bit of conventional wisdom is true, especially if you suffer from acid reflux (reports of a 50% rise in people suffering acid reflux in the last decade).

Meals scattered around a table with drinks and cutleryOver the past decade, the time of the evening meal has been trending later and later. The after-work meal - already later because of longer work hours - is often further delayed by activities such as exercise and shopping.

A professor at psychiatry at UCLA, says that eating late or at odd times can disrupt our circadian rhythms and therefore our sleep-wake cycle.

“We have this illusion that with a flip of a switch, we can work at any time and part of that is eating at any time. But our biological systems... work based on having a daily rhythm.”

It is common to turn to food to help us power through a late-night project when our body is craving sleep. Of course, no two people are alike, so it’s best to observe, analyse, and experiment to see what’s best to aid our sleep.


Cut Out the Caffeine

Pouring coffee into a white mug

Caffeine - the main ingredient in a morning cuppa - is a stimulant that wakes us up or revives us during the day. But a caffeine jolt in the late afternoon or evening can seriously disrupt our sleep.

Most people know not to have coffee after dinner but in fact, caffeine’s power has a longer effect on our bodies than we think.

Numerous studies have concluded that when taken even six hours before bed, caffeine can decrease sleep by as much as an hour. That’s the difference between seven and the recommended eight hours of sleep.

A group of researchers concluded, “The risks of caffeine use in terms of sleep disturbance are underestimated by both the general population and physicians.” In other words, our caffeine cut off time should begin well before evening. So, next time you go to put the kettle on, make sure your last cup of coffee is before 2 pm.

Relax with a warm Drink

Floral cup and saucer on wooden bedside table
What about those drinks that might actually help us sleep, like the fabled glass of milk?

Studies are yet to find a connection between drinking milk and sleep, but if drinking warm milk before bed is a night-time ritual that relaxes you then, by all means, continue doing so.

For those who are dairy-intolerant, try switching to almond or coconut milk, or a soothing cup of chamomile tea. Anything that puts you in a calm frame of mind can help you fall asleep, sugar-free!


Consume the Right Nutrients

 Cup laid on its side on a cloth with cherriesMilk is nutrient-rich and contains lots of calcium. Calcium, along with magnesium and vitamin B, is involved in sleep regulation. On the contrary, calcium deficiencies are sometimes associated with sleep problems. So, although foods that contain calcium won’t put us to sleep, there are key nutrients they include that provide the necessary building blocks for sleep.

The same is true of foods that contain magnesium (nuts, seeds, leafy greens and bananas), B6 (fish, beans poultry), and tryptophan (an amino acid found in foods like chickpeas, seaweed, egg whites, halibut, and turkey).

Another food that may help us sleep is cherries, which are rich in melatonin. A study found that participants who drank a glass of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks slept an average of 85 minutes more each night than those who drank an alternative juice drink before bed.


Stay Away from Spicy Foods

When you’re winding down before bed sleep is spicy foods, which can cause heartburn and bloating.

Close up of hand holding a red chilliAustralian researchers found that participants who ate food contained Tabasco sauce and mustard before bed took longer to fall asleep and slept less. They also found that the participants’ body temperatures increased after eating spicy food, another factor that leads to poor sleep.

Understanding the link between food and sleep means swallowing some (decaf, non-spicy, low-fat) hard truths! If you’re struggling to sleep at night, discover how to improve your sleep hygiene by reading our blog post here.