Sleep is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health. Most people will need to be sleeping for the recommended 7 to 8 hours each night to allow the body and mind to recover from the strains and stresses of the day.
There are a number of factors which can affect the ease with which we fall asleep and impact on the quality of our rest. These include anxiety, too much screen time before bed as well as sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea.
Yet what we eat can also play a role in the quality of our sleep. The choices of drink we make for a nightcap or the choice of food we pick for a late snack can all affect our sleeping patterns.
For those with a disorder like obstructive sleep apnoea this can be an important consideration. People who suffer with the disorder will awake frequently through the night due to the narrowing of the upper airways causing breathing difficulties.
Once diagnosed, sleep apnoea is treatable, but this can be hampered by poor eating habits which disrupt sleeping.
The Effects of Food on Sleeping
While it is generally acknowledged a heavy meal or drinking caffeine and alcohol prior to going to bed should be avoided, there are some foods which may help you fall asleep. This is because certain foods contain elements which help relax you and make you more drowsy, not just helping you to fall asleep quicker but to remain asleep too.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in a number of foods such as complex carbohydrates, eggs and fish. Tryptophan helps promote drowsiness as it boosts serotonin levels, a naturally occurring substance within the body which influences our sleeping. It also boosts melatonin levels, a hormone that plays a key role in our sleep-wake cycle.
Foods Which Can Help You Fall Asleep
If you fancy a late snack then you should not necessarily reach for the nearest or most tempting treat to hand if you want an uninterrupted night’s rest. Keeping stocked up with protein-based foods can not only help satisfy your late evening cravings but also help you fall asleep. These are some of the good foods to consume when close to bed time:
- Nuts are a good, healthy snack option at the best of times, but they can also help you fall asleep. Almonds and walnuts are particularly good as a late snack option since the calcium they contain converts the body’s tryptophan in to melatonin, thereby helping to signal to the body it is time to fall asleep.
- Cottage cheese contains tryptophan and is rich in lean protein. Tryptophan can increase the levels of serotonin in the body, a lack of which can lead to problems sleeping. Of course, you may want a topping for your cottage cheese so try adding fruit like raspberries, a good source of melatonin or hummus, as chickpeas contain tryptophan.
- If you fancy a snack with a meat element, you could opt for turkey. This white meat is well known as a source of the sleep-inducing tryptophan. Eat it with whole grain bread or toast as this form of bread retains the germ of the grain which has vitamins which aid absorption of tryptophan. It also contains magnesium which helps relax the muscles.
- A favourite and convenient snack is a bowl of cereal. This can also be a good late-night choice providing it is a low sugar cereal, preferably paired with skimmed milk as full fat milk can take longer to digest, meaning your body having to work longer. You could try warm milk as the nostalgia and comfortable connection this has for some people to their childhood can be soothing and promote drowsiness.
- If you are in need of a drink prior to going to bed a caffeine-free tea is a good option. There are many styles of tea easily available to buy these days and chamomile, ginger or peppermint teas offer a calming late evening drink. Valerian tea is another option, valerian being a herb which has long been known as a mild sedative.
Foods to Avoid
- It may be one of our favourite treats but chocolate is one to avoid when trying to fall asleep. Chocolate contains caffeine, which similar to coffee, can hinder the body from relaxing and shutting down.
- Beer and wine are two drinks to leave alone as the evening develops and bed time nears. Although you may feel alcohol helps you fall asleep quicker, it can prevent you from sleeping through the night as you will find yourself waking up at times.
- Ice cream is another one of life’s little treats which may not help your sleeping routine. The high sugar levels in ice cream can increase insulin levels as well as increase the stress hormone cortisol, both making sleeping difficult.
- While plenty of water is good for you during the day, you do not want to be drinking too much prior to going to bed. Frequent interruptions when sleeping in order to visit the bathroom will soon affect the quality of your rest.
- A late-night slice of pizza can be very tempting, but is better left alone if you want an undisturbed night sleeping. Topping ingredients can be high in acids which can lead to acid reflux, while the fat from the cheese can also result in sleeping issues.
Therefore, the food and drink we consume can play a significant role in our sleeping patterns.
For those who suffer with sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea, choosing the right snacks to promote drowsiness can complement their treatment plan for the condition, whereas the wrong foods could prove a hindrance.
While you do not want to go to bed on an empty stomach, you also do not want to overeat — even if they are foods which promote sleepiness. The larger the meal or snack, the longer the body will need to work to digest it — and the less rest you will ultimately receive.