Are you causing restless sleep with the foods you eat?
Sleep is a very precious thing to me. I like 8 solid hours of it each night, plus naps when I can spare the time. If there were more hours in a day, I would most likely fill them with sleep. I know I sound crazy, but sleep is amazing! Think about it, sleep replenishes and reenergizes us, and we lose weight while we're doing it! We cannot go without sleep for too long without detrimental effects to our mental and physical functioning.
With something that is so necessary to life, it’s surprising how many things can affect it. I was shocked to learn how many foods (or guilty pleasures) were causing interruptions to my blissful sleep. These are my top finds with some helpful hints:
This one should be a no brainer. If we drink caffeinated beverages in the morning to help wake us up, it’s not surprising they would keep us up at night. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to our central nervous system. First, caffeine blocks adenosine from its receptor, and adenosine plays a role in promoting sleep.
Second, caffeine stimulates your circulatory and respiratory system in a way that decreases your heart rate, restricts your blood vessels, and increases your respiratory rate. This results in the stimulatory effect of feeling like your heart is pounding.¹
None of these reactions are ideal when you are trying to catch some shut eye. If you’re like me and enjoy a warm beverage before bed on those cold nights, reach for a decaffeinated variety.
While a night cap may help you fall asleep, it won’t help you stay asleep. It actually reduces the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This usually occurs 60-90 minutes after falling asleep. Interrupting REM sleep can result in irritability, anxiety, and trouble concentrating.
On the scarier side, alcohol can suppress breathing which may lead to sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing for periods of time. Of course, the opposite is true, where breathing becomes more labored and snoring ensues. Both are scary, life threatening issues (death by pillow smothering is a real concern!).
If you do end up having a few drinks before bedtime, try to drink a glass of water for each drink to balance out the effects. The water will help dilute the alcohol and aid your liver in removing the alcohol from your system.
Proteins are an essential macronutrient and are broken down into amino acids, the building blocks for our bodies. They are necessary for growth and maintenance and require more energy to digest, which is great! But not great right before bed.
Consuming large quantities of protein before bed will force your body to digest long into the hours after you’ve hit the lights. And the increased digestive activity has a higher likelihood of waking you in those first few hours. Keep the protein dense meals for a few hours before bed to give your body time to digest.
We’re talking hot spicy here. Everyone has their own tolerance, and it’s your tolerance that matters. You could be a “mild” ninny like me or a hot sauce guzzling fiend like my sister-in-law. If you consume a lot of spicy food before bed, your sleep could suffer.
Spicy food has two possible side effects that are unpleasant when trying to nod off. Primarily, spiciness leads to heartburn. When we lie down, our throat and stomach are on the same level. This makes it much easy for stomach acids to flow up the esophagus. Spicy food can irritate to the esophagus whether going up or down, and this repeat exposure can lead to pretty painful heartburn.
Also, spicy food can raise our body temperature, which is counterproductive. “Just before we fall asleep, our bodies begin to lose some heat to the environment, which some researchers believe actually helps to induce sleep.”  By increasing our body temperature, spicy food is preventing us from drifting off easily and can even wake us from sleep. Who wants to wake in a pool of sweat? Not me!
Had spicy curry or carnita tacos for dinner? Consume something mild that will neutralize the spice. And maybe keep the TUMS nearby.
Again, conventional practices are counterproductive. At the end of the day, we enjoy a little, sweet indulgence. When dining out, we are offered a dessert menu. It’s what you eat after dinner, right? Sadly, this reward may be causing restless sleep.
Sugar in any form can spike your blood sugar levels. This spike is met with a release of insulin to bring your blood sugar level back down to normal. These fluctuations in blood sugar can cause a myriad of undesirable side effects from a rapid heartbeat to fatigue.
Chocolate is a sneaky sweat because it has caffeine as well as sugar. The added caffeine can stimulate your body and mind in the same way as a cup of coffee. In fact, a bar of chocolate has almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee (70mg vs 95mg).
If you’re dying for something sweet to end the day with, try fruit. It’s still sugar and will affect your blood sugar levels, but not to the extreme of baked or manufactured sweets.
Yum, diuretics. Anything that promotes the production of urine is a diuretic. The word is not appetizing, but many of the foods we eat act as a diuretic. Most famously is probably cranberry juice since it’s a common self-prescription for a urinary tract infection. But cucumber, watermelon, or even garlic can help pass water through our systems.
Diuretics are a part of a healthy diet because they help our bodies purge any unwanted metabolic waste. As we break down our food into usable compounds, we are left with substances that cannot be used. This metabolic waste needs to be removed, and diuretics help remove them.
While diuretics is great, they’re not so great before bed. You’ll wake with a full bladder halfway through the night. There’s nothing more annoying than leaving the warmth of your bed to use the restroom. I recommend limiting food consumption to a few hours before bed. This includes water!
Gas Producing Foods
While this is different for each person, the results are the same. During the breakdown of certain foods, gases are produced. These gases travel through our digestive tract to be released in the form of virulent farts. During this process, gas can build up to uncomfortable levels leading to bloating and stomach pain.
Although beans are a common culprit, other foods may be causing us gastric stress. Some examples of gas-producing foods are:
- Vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, peas, radishes, and raw potatoes
- Beans and other legumes
- Fruits such as apricots, bananas, melons, peaches, pears, prunes, and raw apples
- Wheat and wheat bran
- Carbonated drinks, fruit drinks, beer, and red wine
- Fried and fatty foods
- Sugar and sugar substitutes
- Milk and other dairy products
Not only will gas ruin any potential for intimacy, it is uncomfortable when held in. Many people do this (myself included) to save their significant other from debilitating odors. During the night, gas has the potential to build up and wake you with extreme abdominal pain.
Since the foods that cause each of us to turn our intestines into balloon animals are different, the easiest solution is to take a digestive that will aid with reducing gas production.
While I was sad to find out that my hot chocolate before bed was thwarting my precious sleep, I’ve been more than happy to switch to chamomile tea and get the comatose rest of Sleeping Beauty. My best policy is to keep consumption of food and liquids to a minimum for a few hours before bed. If you’re struggling to get the coveted zz’s you need, take stock of what you’re eating and drinking before bed. It might be the culprit.
Drug Bank, "Caffeine," Wishart Research Group - University of Alberta, 16 September 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00201#pharmacology . [Accessed 21 January 2016].
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, "The Characteristics of Sleep," Healthy Sleep, 18 December 2007. [Online]. Available: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/what/characteristics . [Accessed 21 January 2016].
Healthwise, " Gas (Flatus)-Topic Overview," WebMD Medical Reference, 14 November 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/gas-flatus-topic-overview . [Accessed 28 January 2016].