It is no secret that what you put in your body has several ramifications, sometimes immediate, sometimes over a period of time. Other than your diet, your general lifestyle has an impact on how your productivity, moods and most importantly, how well you sleep. Maintaining a balanced diet is of utmost importance in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But it’s not simply what you put in your body that makes a difference. What also matters is at what time you eat. The timing of your meals through the day can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep. More than maintaining a sleep hygiene and going to bed at a good time, your diet really controls how well you sleep. The following are some foods that could be hindering your ability to sleep. These foods, in isolation, may not be affecting how well you sleep. But based on the context of when you’re eating them and in what quantity, they could decide if you’re getting some decent shuteye or not.
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This is a known fact, but caffeine is a sleep inhibitor. Whenever you’re sleepy at work or having trouble concentrating, a hot cup of coffee usually does the trick. Have you thought of why that happens? Caffeine tricks your brain into being more alert, by inhibiting the production of neurotransmitters that induce sleep. Caffeine also increases adrenaline in the body, providing you with more energy. Studies, however, have found that even a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can reduce the number of hours you sleep. Remember, even if you drink coffee six hours before your bedtime, it is likely to remain in your bloodstream and prevent you from sleeping.
While caffeine affects different bodies differently, a basic thumb rule you could maintain is to avoid caffeine post lunch and definitely a few hours before your bedtime. Some people may be able to have a small coffee with dessert after dinner and still have no trouble sleeping, for others one cup of coffee in the morning is enough. Caffeine intake includes not only coffee but also carbonated drinks and sodas which frequently use caffeine as an ingredient.
When you have had a lot to drink, you automatically feel drowsy and may feel like you can pop off to sleep with ease. Alcohol calms your nerves and puts you to sleep more quickly, but that also means you experience deep sleep fairly early on in your sleep cycle. When you experience deep sleep in the first few hours of the night, the order of your sleep cycle is inverted and towards the latter part of the night, your brain slips into light sleep. There’s also a chance you will experience more REM sleep. This is when your brain is active and experiences vivid dreams. This is why when you wake up from a night of heavy drinking or drink too close to your bedtime, you don’t feel well rested. It may help induce sleep, but the overall quality of the sleep is disrupted.
Alcohol also increases your heart rate, so even though you feel calmer and fall asleep almost immediately, there’s a chance you will wake up in the middle of the night and have disturbed sleep from then on. This doesn’t mean you need to give up on drinking. But if you’re drinking so you can sleep better, that is counterproductive. Enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner, but ensure it has at least a distance of three to four hours from your bedtime.
Sugar gives your body energy. Now, naturally, it is important to maintain your sugar levels or your system could go into severe shock. But consume all the sugar you need to during the day and preferably in the first half of the day. When you consume sugary food in the late afternoon, your body’s metabolism is already slowing down. Your body will not be able to break down the sugar as effectively. Besides, sugar rush gives you an energy boost quite quickly but the energy levels also fall quite rapidly. This fluctuation in energy levels may have you reaching for more caffeine or tempt you to eat snacks at odd hours. This automatically has an impact on the quality of your sleep.
While some sugar in your body is important, cutting the added sugar, typically found in processed meat, carbonated drinks, etc. will only help you maintain the balance. Avoid that extra spoon of sugar in your morning cuppa and cut any source of added sugar from your diet. You will see the difference not only in your sleep quality but also in more glowing skin, hair and higher sustained energy levels.
Fatty or Spicy Foods
This has more to do with when you consume these foods. The heavier your dinner, the longer your body will take to digest the food. Now, if you have a heavy and spicy breakfast, you are going to be active for the rest of the day and your body can simply break it down over the course of the day. But if your dinner is heavy and you go to sleep almost immediately after, your body will be slow to digest it. The spicier or heavier the food you eat right before going to sleep, the greater the chance of indigestion.
Feeling the intestinal juices churning in your body or feeling a burning in your chest is not going to aid you in sleeping peacefully. You need to allow your body to process all the food you’re putting in it so you can drift off to sleep peacefully after a long day.
Beans are another type of food which are hard for the body to digest. They may not typically come under the category of ‘heavy’ food, but the body has a hard time digesting beans. Again, if you ate beans along with a big breakfast, you should be okay. But if beans were a large part of your dinner and you went to sleep right after, there’s a good chance stomach churning gas and acidity will keep you up.
Broccoli has a similar problem. While it is one of the best greens to include in your diet and has a ton of health benefits, its fiber is generally hard to digest. In trying to digest the rich fiber content of the vegetable, your body will be working well into the night. So include broccoli in a light salad or soup, but preferably when there is still daylight outside. This gives your body ample time to digest and break down the fibers.
Broccoli also contains a type of sugar that is indigestible and is bound to create gas when eaten too close to your bedtime.
Now, it is important to keep yourself hydrated through the day. Often, what happens is people forget to drink water through the day and then try to make up for it in one go when they get back home from work. The more water you put in your system before going to bed, the greater the chance your bladder will be full in the latter half of the night and you may have to wake up to use the bathroom. Liquids include not only water but any form of liquid you take even during your meals. This could be soup, which is obviously liquid, but it can also be celery, which has high water content.
Other foods that have high water content include watermelon, cucumber, radish, etc.
Foods That Enhance Sleep
While the above were foods that hinder your ability to sleep, there are plenty of foods that help you sleep. You can include them in your diet, especially in your dinner, to enhance the quality of your sleep. The following is a short list of such foods:
- Cherries: Cherries are high in melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. If you can get your hands on fresh cherries, there’s nothing like it. If not, you can also try including cherry juice in your diet.
- Bananas: Bananas are rich in magnesium, which is known to enhance sleep and is also often prescribed as a cure for insomnia. It is also a great digestive!
- Fish: Tryptophan, a natural sedative, is commonly found in a variety of fish. Fish are also rich in magnesium, which helps muscles to relax. It is also a lighter meat so your body can digest it more easily if consumed for dinner.
- Chamomile: A decaffeinated cup of chamomile tea can do wonders for the quality of your sleep. Chamomile is also known to have a soothing effect and helps manage anxiety.
- Almonds: Almonds are rich in magnesium as well as calcium. A deficiency of both could lead to poor sleep and other conditions that indirectly affect the quality of sleep.
For anyone to function, a good night’s sleep is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, given how present-day professional lives are structured, a balanced diet and regimen are often neglected. While this may lead to other health ailments like obesity, hyperacidity and several kinds of deficiencies, sleep deprivation is one of the most critical fallouts. What you put in your body has a direct impact on your sleep cycle and the quality of your sleep. Diet and sleep go hand in hand, so be mindful of what you eat and enjoy your meal as well as a good night of sleep.