Everyone has their opinions on what you should eat or drink before bed to get some quality shut eye – but can you tell the fact from the fiction? Here are 5 foods to avoid and 5 foods to embrace to ensure a restful night!
In another blog, we explained that eating food at night will not cause unnecessary weight gain. And it’s true! We don’t gain weight depending on when we ingest our food. However, you should be careful or what you eat and how much, as consuming the wrong thing can make it difficult to sleep. A restless night also leads to overeating the next day.
Foods to eat
If you’re having trouble sleeping, eating a small snack of certain foods may just help you nod off. Don’t go overboard with it though, as a large meal will require a lot of digestion which can cause discomfort throughout the night. Pick from this list, or stick to foods rich in carbohydrates (which help boost tryptophan in the blood), tryptophan, melatonin, and minerals including calcium, potassium, zinc and magnesium which have all been linked to increased levels and quality of sleep!
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Just like ZMA, bananas are packed full of potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that have significant effects on sleep including easing insomnia and boosting sleep quality. Not only that, they serve as muscle and nerve relaxants. Bananas also contain tryptophan, an amino acid which turns into the chemicals serotonin and melatonin in the brain, boosting sleep.
2. Cereal or porridge with milk
Oats may seem like an unlikely choice given that they’re high in fibre and slow digestion. However, a small amount before bed can actually improve your sleep. Not only do oats have a low glycaemic index, they boost the body’s production of serotonin and contain melatonin. Have your oats or cereal with milk, another fantastic source of melatonin. The idea that a warm glass of milk before bed will help you sleep actually has some truth to it!
Another great source of tryptophan is hummus – specifically the chickpeas that the spread is made from. Try having some hummus with a few wholegrain crackers or pitta bread. Small amounts of carbohydrates are great for your sleep, as they also contain tryptophan! It will fill you up so you won’t be waking hungry throughout the night, however a small amount won’t cause you to have digestive discomfort – a great combination.
Almonds are a double whammy because they contain tryptophan and magnesium. These both help to relax the body by reducing muscle and nerve function, and also steady the rhythm of the heart. Magnesium deficiency is linked to sleep difficulty and insomnia, so boosting your intake may help you fall asleep faster. Try a handful of almonds next time you can’t sleep.
5. Sour cherries
A seemingly-strange option, sour cherries are a great source of melatonin. In simple terms, it is the hormone that tells your body that it’s time to go to bed. Beyond that, they also have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Either eating them whole or in juice form, cherries will increase the quality of your sleep. Cherries aren’t the only source of melatonin – oats and nuts are a couple of the others on this list. Eating or drinking tart cherries regularly can help you regulate your sleep.
6. Casein Protein
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Foods to avoid
And now onto the stuff that should be avoided for the sake of a good snooze. A simple rule of thumb is to avoid foods that are high in fat, fibre and protein. As well as the foods listed below, drinks containing caffeine and alcohol should not be part of your night-time routine. It’s no secret that drinks including coffee and tea contain caffeine, a stimulant that speeds up the messages between your body and your brain, making it hard to fall asleep.
Alcohol is a slightly less obvious one, as a nightcap will often make you fall asleep faster. However, alcohol reduces the amount of SWS (slow-wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep you get during the night. These two sleep phases are responsible for repairing and restoring the brain and body, so when they are interrupted or minimised, the quality of sleep is severely affected. You may find yourself tossing, turning and waking up throughout the night. Try stopping alcohol consumption a couple of hours before bed, or drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink to help dilute the effects of the alcohol.
Drinking anything – caffeinated, alcoholic or otherwise – should be avoided right before bed. You don't want to be getting up to go to the bathroom during the night!
1. Fried and fatty foods
Indulging in a high-fat snack might be just what you’re craving, but try to avoid it before bed! Eating a lot will cause take your body a long time to digest which may lead to stomach pains, acid reflux and cramping throughout the night. Just like spicy foods, copious amounts of fat can cause heartburn and interrupt your precious sleep!
2. Spicy and heavy foods
One of the easiest ways to disrupt your sleep is to have a big curry or bowl of chilli beef. Why? Well not only will going to sleep with a full stomach leave you feeling uncomfortable and bloated and take a long time to digest, spicy food also causes heartburn. You’ll be tossing and turning with a very sore tummy all night. On top of all that, spicy foods raise your core body temperature which impacts the quality of sleep.
Steak contains a lot of protein, which is essential for the body and fantastic for building and repairing muscle. But it’s not a great idea if you're heading to bed. Like insoluble fibre, protein is difficult to digest and contains tyrosine, an amino acid which boosts brain activity. Not only that, steaks are high in fat. The combination of fat and protein not only raises cholesterol and increases obesity risk, it also digests slowly and if eaten before bed may disrupt the circadian rhythm. On top of this, maintaining a diet high in fat and protein has been linked to sleep apnoea. This doesn’t just cause you to snore loudly, but can lead to exhaustion and significantly impact your life.
4. Dark Chocolate
I mentioned coffee and tea earlier as well-known sources of caffeine, but even the small amounts of the stimulant found in chocolate can affect your sleep. Certain dark chocolates contain between 1/4 and 1/3 of the caffeine contained in a regular cup of coffee. It may not sound like much, but it can have an effect on your sleep! A good rule to follow is he darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains. All chocolate contains caffeine, but if you’re really hankering for a piece you should opt for chocolate with a lower percentage of cocoa.
5. Cruciferous vegetables
Certain roughage including watercress, broccoli and cauliflower contains tryptophan, which of course assists the production of serotonin and regulates sleep. However, many vegetables also contain insoluble fibre. As its name suggests, insoluble fibre is not broken down in the gut. Instead, it helps to keep you regular by bulking out waste in the digestive system. It’s great for you, but insoluble fibre takes a long time to process and moves slowly through the digestive system, which will keep your body working throughout the night and disrupt sleep. Not only that, cruciferous vegetables are notorious for causing you to produce gas!
Bear in mind not to overeat, because even the healthiest and most sleep-inducing foods can keep you up if you have too much. Remember the key hormones and minerals connected to sleep if you’re searching for something to have before bed, but ultimately try sticking to this guide if you’re craving a midnight snack!