You are what you eat–or so the saying goes. We know that we’re likely to put on weight if we make certain food choices like eating fatty foods or unhealthy foods. Similarly, if we eat sugary foods, our blood sugar levels will rise. We also know that drinking caffeinated beverages or eating oily, fried, or acidic foods in the hours before bedtime if we’re trying to get a good night’s sleep may very well prevent that from happening.
But what if it wasn’t just stimulant foods and drinks that affected our sleep cycles? What if what we eat throughout the day also impacts how we sleep?
Nutrition and Sleep
There have been many studies into how sleep affects our mood throughout the day, and by extension, how it can impact our eating habits. Less research has been focused on how what we eat may be affecting how we sleep.
- Balanced Diet. Recent studies have started to show certain associations between diet and better quality sleep. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found an association between light, less restorative sleep, and a diet consisting of low fiber and high saturated fat and sugar.
- Lack of Nutrients. Another study showed a link between a lack of nutrients and poor sleep. The results showed that participants who had a low intake of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, had poor sleep quality and tended to get less than 7 hours of sleep.
- Carbohydrates. Eating a high-carb diet has also been found to impact a person’s sleep quantity and quality. Research has shown that people who frequently eat high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods suffer from reduced amounts of deep sleep and tend to wake up several times during the night. Lowering your carbohydrate intake during the day might help you to increase the amount of deep, uninterrupted sleep you get every night.
- The Mediterranean Diet. Many people have switched to a diet closer to a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce their carbohydrate intake. This type of diet, common for centuries in countries like Italy and Spain, promotes eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fish. It also promotes reducing the amount of high-fat foods you eat. Most of the fat content for dishes comes from olive oil, which is a healthy monounsaturated fat. A recent study showed that eating a Mediterranean-style diet has been found to improve sleep quality.
- DASH Diet. Another diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, has also been linked to improved quality of sleep. The DASH diet promotes eating foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber, avoiding salty foods, and reducing saturated fat intake.
While there is insufficient data concerning other diets, research would suggest that a well-balanced, healthy diet of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals could help with improvements in sleep quality.
One of the biggest alleged culprits of poor sleep is caffeine. However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the effects of caffeine can depend on various factors such as body weight and individual sensitivity. For one person, a cup of coffee per day may be their limit, whereas multiple cups may have little effect on someone else. However, the FDA recommends that a person limit their daily intake of caffeine to no more than 400mg per day.
Sleep and When We Eat
It’s not only what we eat that has an impact on how well we sleep. Research also shows that when we eat specific foods, it affects our sleep duration and quality.
For example, whatever your tolerance level, what time of day you drink caffeine could significantly affect your sleep time. According to the FDA, it can take between 4-6 hours for your body to sufficiently metabolize half of the caffeine you have consumed. Even after 6 hours, the effects can be significant. A study showed that 6 hours after consuming 400mg of caffeine, participants would overall lose an hour of sleep time.
As well as avoiding caffeine later in the day, it is also advisable to avoid eating spicy foods and drinking alcohol in the hours before you go to bed. Both of these can irritate your airway, causing you to snore and have a less restful sleep.
Good sleep is important for your overall health. Ensuring that you have a well-balanced diet and eating healthy foods at the right time can be the difference between a quality, restorative sleep pattern and potentially an overall lack of sleep.
- Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep
- Micronutrient Inadequacy in Short Sleep: Analysis of the NHANES 2005-2016
- Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality
- Mediterranean diet
- Sleep Quality in Obesity: Does Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Matter?
- Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Score and Its Association with Sleep Quality in a National Survey of Middle-Aged and Older Men and Women
- Understanding the DASH diet
- Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?
- Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed