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How what you ingest can influence your sleep

Everybody knows that drinking coffee close to bedtime has the potential to keep you awake. Caffeinated drinks tend to have that effect on people. But did you know that what you eat can also have an influence on the quality of your sleep? And not only what you eat, mind you, the things you drink (apart from the obvious coffee) can also have an effect on your sleep. It can also influence the things you dream. So if you want to know what to avoid close to bedtime and what to replace it with, read on.

The obvious things…

Caffeine

As we’ve written many times on this blog, coffee in the afternoon is a big no-no. And for that matter, so is all other caffeinated drinks. Let it not be said that we discriminate against coffee on this blog! Ceylon tea and green tea also contains caffeine. As does coke, Redbull and a myriad of other soft drinks and energy drinks.
Caffeine stays in the bloodstream for up to six hours, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, try to avoid it after lunch. It will give you a better chance to fall asleep right away once you get into bed.

Alcohol

You might be surprised by this one. What with the tradition of having a night cap to help you sleep and all that. How can alcohol be detrimental to the quality of your sleep? The thing about alcohol is that, like caffeine, it stays in your bloodstream for quite some time. And on top of that, it is not easy for your stomach to digest alcohol. So, even though alcohol might make you feel drowsy after consuming it, you might not get the good sleep you think you will after having a nightcap.

You see, once the alcohol works out of your bloodstream, your body wakes up, thinking that it had a full nights rest. And once you woke up like this, it is very near impossible to go back to sleep. Because your body is convinced that it is time to get up (even if it might still be midnight) it will take a long time of tossing and turning before you eventually go back to dreamland.

Another interesting effect that alcohol can have on your sleep is it can stop you from dreaming. At least until it leaves your system. Alcohol replaces the hormone that induces dreaming in the brain, which keeps you from entering rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. If your body does not enter this sleep phase, it cannot dream and it also can’t go on to the next sleep cycle. Interesting stuff!

Drugs

The same research that showed how alcohol withholds you from dreamland also indicated that drug abuse has negative effects on the quality of your sleep. Hallucinogenic drugs have the same effect that alcohol has on the dream center of the brain. The mechanics are a bit different, but it has the same effect on the body.
These type of drugs make your brain see things that are not real, so your brain assumes that you are dreaming. Thus, when you fall asleep, your body might think that it does not need to dream and subsequently withhold you from REM sleep.

Junk food late at night

Okay, the junk food in and of itself is not the healthiest thing on earth, but the timing of that late night burger plays a much bigger role on the quality of your sleep than the actual burger. Eating late at night is generally not the best idea, if you plan on getting in a good nights’ rest. As you might know, your body uses energy to digest food. So if you eat late at night, your body will still be digesting the food by the time you get in bed. This will make it difficult to fall asleep, because your stomach is still active.

The top view of friends eating lunch in a diner Vršovice, Prague, Praha 101, Prague, Czech Republic

Apart from the junk food and the midnight feasting, the general time when you eat also influences your sleep, albeit to a lesser extent. When you eat breakfast has an influence on when you will all asleep. It makes sense, really. Think about it, if you have a 16 hour day and you do roughly the same kind of thing every day, such as eating breakfast, your body gets in a rhythm. So it will know that if you eat breakfast at, let’s say 07h00 in the morning, you will go to sleep at around 22h00 (15 hours after breakfast). If you decide to eat breakfast at 09h00 all of a sudden, your body will still think that it needs to go to sleep in 15 hours’ time. Therefore the chances are good that you will only start feeling sleepy around 11h30 or so that night.

For interests sake

It is quite interesting to note that, just like bad eating habits promote bad sleeping habits, the reverse is also true. Research has shown that people with bad sleeping habits tend to eat more and less healthy food than people with healthy sleep hygiene. Sleep experts attribute this to the fact that people that don’t get enough sleep will have deficiencies in various aspects of their lives. This generally leads to overeating. So if you want to eat less or eat more healthy, try to improve your sleeping habits.

Can foodstuffs improve the quality of your sleep?

Yes it can definitely improve the quality of your sleep. Just like you shouldn’t drink caffeine before bed time, there are lists and lists of herbal teas that will help you to sleep more soundly or to fall asleep faster. And of course, eating healthy foods will help. Let’s see what you can eat and drink to help you improve your sleep hygiene.

Teas

Lavender tea, rooibos tea, valerian tea… All of these are natural herbal teas that can improve your sleep. Just a word of advice, if you decide to drink tea before bedtime, try to do it at least an hour before you close your eyes. This is just so that you won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. Obviously going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is not ideal. Especially if you want to sleep straight through.

Size of meals

This might take some getting used to, but sleep experts suggest that you eat more in the morning, and less at night. As we’ve already mentioned, eating a lot before going to bed is not the best idea, because your body will take time to digest all that food and the digestive process will most probably take precedence over sleep.
So eat your big meal in the morning or at lunch, so that your body will have enough time to digest the food properly. And when the evening comes, have a light supper that will be easy to digest, so that your body can get that much deserved rest.

Eat less sugar and more fibre

Recent research fund that eating a high sugar and high fat diet might impede proper sleep. The paper showed that people who eat this kind of diet tend to sleep lighter than ones who eat more fibres and less sugar. Those who had diets that were high in sugar and fat also felt less restored after a night’s rest. The researchers are not one hundred percent sure about why this seems to be the case, but they are working on it and I am sure you will read about it on this blog sooner or later.

Hopefully we’ve inspired you to lay off the booze at night and to dig into the salads! Until next time, eat well, stay healthy and sleep like a king.

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