Alaska Sleep Education Center

How Your Diet Affects Your Sleep

Posted by Linda Gimmeson on Apr 16, 2021 5:19:00 AM

Happy family buying healthy food at the supermarket

Getting a good night's sleep is dependent on more than just what time you go to bed and wake up. In fact, diet plays a huge role in your sleep quality. The food you consume powers your brain, which is why it's so important to eat a healthy diet and cut out any potential triggers. Here are seven foods and drinks that may be negatively impacting your sleep and how to change your diet to get the good night's rest that you need.

  1. Caffeine

Although it may be tempting to reach for a cup of coffee when you're in need of a pick-me-up, try to stay away from consuming caffeine late in the evening. Caffeine has been shown to negatively impact sleep quality because it blocks the release of melatonin, an important hormone involved in the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle. A recent study discovered that individuals who consumed caffeine six hours before bedtime lost about one hour of sleep as compared to those who didn't. Therefore, it's best to cut out caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening. In addition to coffee, don't forget about less obvious caffeine sources, such as chocolate, tea and soda. If you're feeling tired throughout the day and need an energy boost, consider taking a greens powder supplement, exercising or drinking more water. These are simple ways to combat fatigue that are often overlooked.

  1. Sugar

While you may already know that sugar can have a negative effect on your health, you may not know that it can also negatively affect your sleep quality. When you consume sugar, your blood sugar levels immediately spike, which then causes your cortisol levels to increase. Considering that cortisol is a stress hormone that functions as the body's built-in alarm system, it's clear how an increase in this chemical can disrupt your sleep and awaken your body from its slumber. Even if you eat sugar one or two hours before bed, you'll experience a crash in your energy levels after the initial sugar rush, which can cause you to reach for caffeine or take a nap, both of which can have a detrimental effect on your sleep if done too late in the day. Therefore, it's best to stop eating sugar a few hours before bedtime. Try reaching for some fresh fruit if you're craving a sugary snack late at night.

  1. Alcohol

Because alcohol is a depressant, you may think that it's fine to drink a glass or two before bed. However, research has shown that it can actually disturb your sleep, especially if you consume it right before bed. Typically, when you first fall asleep, you spend some time in the light sleep stage before entering the deeper stage of REM sleep. However, drinking alcohol will make you feel drowsy, causing your body to spend more time in the deep sleep stage earlier than it should be. This disruption of your sleep cycle can interfere with essential restorative processes that occur while you're asleep, such as your brain creating long-term memories, your immune system fighting off inflammation and your body releasing hormones that repair cells and regulate energy levels. This doesn't mean you can't drink alcohol at night; just be sure to wait at least two to three hours before going to sleep to allow your body time to metabolize the alcohol.

  1. Spicy Foods

Spicy foods, including hot wings, curries and chili peppers, contain high levels of capsaicin, a chemical that has been shown to interfere with the body's thermoregulation process. This causes your body to elevate its temperature and therefore disrupt sleep quality. Furthermore, your body needs high energy levels to digest spices, which can prevent it from winding down and allowing you to achieve restful sleep. Eating spicy foods can also contribute to acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion. Not only can this cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, but it can also cause your esophagus to become damaged or inflamed. Consider using other less intense spices, such as rosemary, basil or ginger, if you want to give your food flavor without sacrificing your health or sleep quality. You can also still enjoy spicy food as long as you allow your body a few hours to digest it before going to bed.

  1. Cheese

Even though cheese may not come to mind when thinking about foods that can disrupt your sleep, it has actually been shown to negatively impact sleep quality. This is because cheese, especially if it's strong or aged, naturally consists of high levels of tyramine. Tyramine is an amino acid that causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant responsible for the fight-or-flight response. This can cause you to feel alert for several hours and prevent your body from calming down enough to achieve restful sleep. You don't need to omit cheese from your diet, but just make sure that you don't consume it too close to bedtime.

  1. Heavy Meals

While not exactly a type of food, consuming a heavy meal before bed can have a negative impact on sleep quality. This is because your body will raise its metabolism in order to digest the food, preventing your brain from winding down and entering a deep state of relaxation necessary for sleep. In addition, eating a heavy meal late at night can cause acid reflux or heartburn. Even if you don't typically experience digestive discomfort after eating a large meal in the daytime, lying down after consuming a heavy meal without allowing your body adequate time to digest can cause indigestion, which is a common reason why people wake up in the middle of the night. If you have a case of the late-night munchies, try reaching for a healthier and lighter snack such as yogurt, nuts or fruit.

  1. Water

You should definitely be drinking lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and keep up your energy levels, but drinking too much right before bed can disrupt your sleep by causing you to wake up multiple times to use the bathroom. Try to stop drinking water about two to three hours before bedtime so that you can empty your bladder and allow your brain to focus on sleep rather than the urge to use the bathroom.

If you've been having trouble sleeping lately and aren't sure why, try examining your diet for possible clues. There are many foods that have been shown to disrupt sleep quality, although most people are unaware of their negative effects. Use this list to determine which foods may be potential triggers and substitute them with healthier alternatives.

A good quality sleep may seem difficult to come by, but tweaking your diet is one of the very best ways to achieve this. Avoiding the food that keeps you awake and restless, and adding foods that promote a healthy sleep cycle will have you falling asleep peacefully in no time.

For all your sleep troubles, Alaska Sleep Clinic has a blog with answers you are looking for to your health questions. Sign up to receive ASC's daily sleep blog below. Our website received over 5 million visits last year alone, making one of the top 5 sites in the world for sleep education.

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