Sleep is affected by many internal and external factors. Food is one of the major external factors that affect sleep. It is virtually impossible to separate food and sleep. Understanding the complex relationships between food and sleep can help you to sleep better at night.
Food and Sleep: The Effects of Food on Sleep
Research on food and sleep show that the time you take your supper can make the difference between insomnia and goodnight sleep. This is because achieving sleep while digestion is at peak it’s difficult. It results in rolling and turning on the bed for a long time before sleep is achieved. In addition, the friction between sheets and your body as you toss and turn increases body temperature that hampers sleep.
Food and sleep surveys show that people who eat food too close to bedtime are more likely to wake up at night. This is especially true about drinks. Taking food or drinks at least 3 hours to your preferred bedtime ensures that digestion occurs and all waste is excreted before sleeping. This sleep and food tip needs to be practiced by everyone. This way, sleep is less likely to be interrupted by nature calls.
Researchers studying food and sleep have discovered that tryptophan – an amino acid – induces sleep. Carbohydrates make tryptophan to be more available to the sleep. Here the important food and sleep tip to take home is that your supper should be heavily loaded with proteins and carbohydrates.
This way, the proteins provide tryptophan while carbohydrates increase its availability in the brain for better sleep. On the flip side, these two foods should be avoided if you do not want to sleep after lunch. In general, heavy meals both for supper and more so at lunch should be avoided.
Melatonin is the natural sleep hormone. Food and sleep researchers have identified tryptophan as an important ingredient in making melatonin. Tryptophan is first converted into serotonin then to melatonin. Melatonin is then produced released by the pineal gland when the eyes detect darkness.
Caffeine can lead to insomnia is probably the most common food and sleep fact out there. Beverages containing caffeine such as coffee, tea and coal work by antagonizing the action of sleep hormones like melatonin. Caffeine should be taken preferably in the first half of the day and definitely too close to sleep time.
As a food and sleep tip, drinking alcohol is often misunderstood. While taking alcohol after supper can help you fall asleep quickly, it is very poor at maintaining sleep. As soon as it wears off, you will wake up. Alcohol-induced sleep is mainly maintained at N-REM which is a shallow level of sleep. Additionally, alcohol is an efficient diuretic. It therefore makes you interrupt sleep in order to urinate.
Food and sleep research shows that spicy food can lead to sleep problems. Spicy food cause a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) where the body produces excess acid which interrupts sleep. If you have GERD, it is important that you avoid spices especially for dinner.
Food and Sleep: Important Tips
- Make lunch or breakfast be your largest meal rather than supper.
- Relieve your body before going to bed.
- Avoid lying down soon after eating so that proper digestion can occur.
- Use a pillow to reduce GERD.