Did you know that your diet could be having a detrimental effect on your sleep? And it’s not just what you’re eating – it’s how and when you’re eating it, too. As a matter of fact, those last two factors are much more important than scientists and Sleep Experts used to believe. Below, we’ll get into the how and when of your diet that you need to change in order to get better sleep. We’ve talked previously about what goes into a good sleep diet – but if you don’t improve upon your bad sleep tight, you may still have issues with your sleep.
The What, the When, and the Why of a Poor Sleep Diet
If you’re having trouble getting good sleep, then you may be eating/drinking things that are contributing to the problem. You may not have to completely eliminate them from your dad and lifestyle if you consume them at the right times. However, you should still know about the dangers they pose if you really want to improve your nightly rest.
The What: Alcohol
The when: too close to or immediately before bedtime
The why: Look, we get it. Whether it’s a recommended dose of powerful cold medicine or a good, stiff drink (if not several), it feels like it’s easier to get to sleep when you’ve got some alcohol in your system. It does a great job of knocking you out, especially if worries and anxieties keep you up at night. But over the long term, this is a terrible thing for many reasons.
Alcohol only knocks you out – not unlike some prescription sleeping pills. But it doesn’t keep you asleep all night. Most people who fall asleep while intoxicated sleep fewer hours and experience a more shallow sleep cycle than they would have had they gone to bed sober. On top of all that, most people report having more difficulty getting back to sleep. This makes sense, especially with excessive intoxication that can leave you feeling miserable and hungover when you wake. Lastly, the reason we sleep is to restore and regenerate our bodies after the damage of our day. but this doesn’t happen if you fall asleep and your body has to divert resources to metabolizing the alcohol in your bloodstream. This causes cumulative damage over time which not only disrupts your sleep, but causes harm to your overall health.
The What: Caffeine
The when: anytime during the afternoon or evening hours
The why: Caffeine is perfectly fine in moderation and when you restrict it to the morning hours only. But excessive caffeine intake and/or ingesting it at the wrong time of day can wreak havoc on your sleep. Caffeine can continue circulating in your bloodstream from anywhere to 6-8 hours after you drink it (or take a caffeine pill). It may take even longer for your body to process it if your metabolism is slower than average. This means that at bedtime when you should be relaxing, the caffeine is spiking your cortisol levels. High cortisol levels make you feel stressed out, anxious, and alert. The evening hours are the worst possible time for your cortisol levels to spike.
The What: Spicy Food
The when: late at night
The why: Because it can cause you pain and other unpleasant symptoms of indigestion. Falling asleep is difficult for many of us for non-physical reasons. But experiencing acute pain on top of that? Say hello to tossing and turning all night! Worst of all, spicy foods can aggravate your stomach lining and even relax the stomach valve that keeps your food from rolling back up into your esophagus. This can cause heartburn or force you to sleep in an uncomfortable inclined position, make it harder for you to fall asleep.
The What: Processed Food
The when: 24/7
The why: Your body needs specific micronutrients, amino acids, and minerals in order to produce happy, relaxing neurotransmitters in your brain. When you don’t get enough of these nutrients, you suffer from things like serotonin imbalances, poor melatonin production, and hormone dysregulation. This will completely throw your circadian rhythm out of whack and throw a wrench in your daily sleep cycle.
We know we probably sound like a broken record by recommending that you eat more fruits and vegetables, but it really does work. Fresh produce gives you things like B vitamins, magnesium, and certain types of whole food fatty acids which are essential for producing sleep hormones at night. The more processed food you eat – anything that typically comes out of a can, a box, or the freezer section of your supermarket – the more excess sodium, processed sugar, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats you end up digesting. Not only are these foods scarce in nutrients, but there are notorious for causing the type of hormone dysregulation which makes you gain weight, feel depressed, and promotes sleep deprivation.
The Upside Down Food Pyramid (and How it Affects Your Sleep)
Take a look at the eating schedule most people typically follow on the standard american diet: a small or non-existent breakfast in the morning, intermittent snacks between late morning and early evening when they should be eating lunch, and a large, calorie-dense meal sometimes within an hour or two of going to sleep. As it turns out, this is the exact opposite way we should be eating. Our bodies evolved and adapted to a completely different eating schedule.
A healthier eating regimen looks like an upside-down pyramid. You start out by eating your largest, most calorie-dense meal soon after waking up. This is just like filling your tank with gas right before starting a long road trip. You load your body up on the fuel it needs to get through a day. Eating a moderate lunch in the middle of the day helps give you an extra boost if your energy levels start to drop. Finally, a small meal in the evening which is eaten (at most) two to three hours before bed can give you a little nutrition to help your body reset and restore itself while you rest. The fewer calories you ingest, the sooner your body will start fasting while you sleep, which triggers all sorts of great health benefits.
On top of everything, you should add a natural sleep aid to your daily sleeping and eating schedule. It helps enhance and improve the benefits you get from following a healthier sleep diet. It’s amazing what just a few simple lifestyle changes can do for improving your rest and overall health.