Warm milk will help you sleep. Cheese will give you bad dreams. There’s a lot of folklore around food and sleep, two of our favorite things! How much of it is true? There have been studies done to find out the best and worst foods for better sleep – or a midnight snack. It also works the other way around, with how you sleep impacting how your body digests food.
Find your food schedule
Fasting is a popular diet type right now, but it can have unintended effects. Studies showed that people who fast got 40 minutes less sleep a night, likely due to a change in hormones. It’s also not good to splurge late in the day. The body has to work to digest, so your system is stimulated instead of calm. Eat something nutritious every few hours to keep a balance. It takes about three hours for the body to digest a normal dinner, so try to stop eating three hours before bedtime. If you have to have a snack, make sure it’s small and at least an hour before bed.
Know what to eat
What’s in your stomach will definitely impact your sleep, especially if it hasn’t fully digested. If you’re eating a late meal or want a snack, focus on things that have vitamins and minerals linked to better sleep. That includes serotonin (in foods like salmon, skim milk, and kiwi), melatonin (in cherries), tryptophan (you know it from Thanksgiving turkey, but it’s also in peanut butter, walnuts, and cottage cheese), or magnesium to relax muscles (bananas, almonds). Spinach is a super-sleep food – it has magnesium to relax muscles and vitamins that are key in synthesizing serotonin and melatonin.
This means that warm milk is a real cure for sleeplessness. The warm part is optional, although warm muscles tend to be loose and more relaxed, and that goes for inside and out. Other drinks can also offer safe sedatives, like passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile, or valerian tea.
And what not to eat
It’s pretty clear that caffeine won’t do you any favors if you drink it too late. You may already know to avoid coffee and tea – but unfortunately chocolate also contains caffeine. A bar of 70% dark chocolate has over half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, which could be enough to keep you up a little later.
Alcohol might seem a good bet because it causes relaxation. It also prevents REM so the sleep you’re getting isn’t truly restful.
Foods that are hard on your system should also be avoided. Fatty foods take longer to digest, and sugar causes rapid changes in blood sugar. Spicy food, or anything that gives you heartburn, is on the list as well. Anything that bothers your body means you’re not getting good sleep due to the discomfort. This means anything that causes gas (like high-fiber foods), or causes you a midnight trip to the bathroom. While hydration is good, try not to drink too much water right before bed.
Breaking the rules
Is midnight snacking really so bad? Eating during the sleep cycle makes our bodies more likely to store foods as fat. So it's bad for controlling your weight. It is also more likely to cause acid reflux and other issues. On the other hand, if you haven’t eaten right during the day, you could have an empty stomach. If you haven’t gotten enough nutrients, that hunger can keep you up. If you have to eat, stay with the foods on the “good” list and ignore your sugar cravings. A piece of whole-wheat bread with almond butter is perfect.
What about eating too late? To help your body digest while you sleep, sleep on the left side. Gravity will work with your organs to get things where they need to go.
If you couldn’t resist the hot wings and get heartburn or acid reflux, sleep with your upper body elevated. This can help keep the acids down in the stomach rather than rising up to cause problems. An adjustable bed is a great way to do this (and ease aches and pains while you’re at it).
One good side of eating bad before bed? It might cause more interesting dreams. A study done showed that dairy and spicy foods gave them increasingly bizarre and disturbing dreams. This might be because they weren’t sleeping as well and remembering the dreams later.
Try sleeping with your upper body elevated to ease heartburn, acid reflux, and snoring.
Eating in bed
Pizza and a movie in bed can be a relaxing date, but eating on the sheets regularly can cause problems. First, there’s the issue of falling asleep too soon after you eat, since you’re already in bed. We already know that leads to poor sleep. If you’re lying down while you eat, it might also mean an increased risk of indigestion and heartburn. Then, there’s the chances of overeating. If you’re not paying attention, like being distracted by a movie, you tend to eat more. You start associating the bed with food and other stimuli instead of peaceful and relaxing sleep.
Then there’s the food spills. You could stain your sheets, but it’s really the crumbs that cause damage. If you’re like most people and don’t change your sheets very often, all those bits of food can attract bugs. Ants, cockroaches, flies – nothing you want in bed with you.