Your diet can have effects on your body no matter what it is doing, whether it is active or not. While maintaining a healthy diet will give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to prevent illnesses and diseases, it can also either benefit or be detrimental to your sleeping habits. Many foods contain stimulants, while some can actually boost your body’s receptiveness to melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced within your body that makes you naturally sleep when it becomes dark outside. Some foods can hinder melatonin production and others can boost your body’s receptiveness and production of melatonin. Having a good idea of which foods to take in more of and which to avoid before bed can help you regulate your diet more thoroughly while sleeping more soundly at night.
What to limit:
Caffeine: Found in tea, coffee, soda, chocolate, and some pain relievers. Caffeine binds with receptors in your body that bind with adenosine, which can make you sleepy. It gives your body a false-alertness and awareness, causing you to feel awake even though you may not be focused, causing you to lose out on potential sleep time.
Water-logged foods: Celery, radishes, watermelon, cucumbers. Though these vegetables should be consumed as part of your normal diet, try to avoid them at dinner time or after that. Taking in a lot of these vegetables can cause your body to need to get rid of the water in the middle of the night, since they act as a diuretic. The need to expel water in the middle of the night is going to wake you up for a bathroom visit, potentially out of a deep sleep.
Fatty and fried foods: Pizza, fried chicken, French fries, cheese, etc. Foods that are high in fat and fried in oil take a long time to digest and can also upset your stomach. The grease content can cause digestive upset, which can prevent your body from getting restful sleep, as well as possibly warranting a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom.
Tyramine-rich foods: Tomatoes, soy, eggplant, wine, some cheeses. Tyramine is a chemical found in foods and some beverages that can prevent you from falling asleep because of its effects on the brain. Tyramine boosts brain activity, and can even be found as an additive to some energy drinks for its function. Tyramine in the body stimulates the overproduction of norepinephrine, which can cause adrenaline rushes. You probably won’t ever feel an adrenaline rush after eating some of these foods, but they can boost brain activity just enough to hinder sleep.
Alcohol: Though it’s a depressant and can make you feel tired, you will not get the amount of REM sleep you need. Alcohol allows you to sleep, though it is not restful. Your body continues to work to get rid of the alcohol already in your system, so it never fully relaxes and lets you sleep peacefully.
Sugar: It’s pretty much common sense, but sugar in food can cause blood sugar spikes, which can cause you to feel energized and awake. Too much sugar at or before bedtime will keep you awake until you crash, potentially robbing you of some precious sleep time.
Spicy foods: Hot and spicy food can cause your stomach to become upset, so while some people tolerate them much better than others, spicy foods are best avoided before bedtime. Hot foods or spice-laden dishes can cause heartburn when not fully digested before bedtime, which can painfully wake you up at night and in the early morning.
Heavy meals and protein-rich meals: Eating a heavy meal and a meal rich in protein is going to keep your digestive system working for hours after eating. If you’re eating a heavy meal or a meal heavy in protein before bed, you’re going to lose restful sleep to your digestive system working to break down and absorb nutrients all night long.
What to implement:
Cherries: Cherries and cherry juice has high levels of melatonin, which can aid your body in the production of its own melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep pattern.
Fish: Like turkey, fish contains tryptophan. You’ve probably heard (or felt!) that a nap is in order after a big Thanksgiving meal. Scientists concluded that tryptophan is responsible for that feeling, and it can be found in turkey, but also largely in fish! Tryptophan is a natural sedative that can induce a sleep-like state.
Potassium, magnesium and calcium-rich food: Spinach, bananas, dairy, nuts. Foods high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium replenish your electrolyte levels, which helps your muscles to relax in preparation for sleep while avoiding cramps and muscle spasms. Calcium is also necessary for melatonin to be used within your body, so foods high in calcium allow your body to utilize all of the melatonin produced by your endocrine system.
Herbs: Chamomile, basil, sage, lavender. Some herbs in foods can help you relax and not feel as tense at night. Lavender as an aromatic can soothe the mind as you unwind for bed, and a hot cup of chamomile tea is relaxing and helps aid digestion.