Healthy Eating for a Good Night’s Sleep

September 29, 2017

If you’ve been tossing and turning lately, it may just be what you’re eating.

If you’ve been tossing and turning lately, it may just be what you’re eating. There are a number of foods that can make sleep difficult. Dr. Michael A. Grandner, of University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology, points out six things you should avoid or limit so that you’re not left counting sheep each night.

Coffee. This is an obvious one. Most people don't realize that caffeine can affect your ability to sleep for 12 hours, especially in people who are more sensitive to it. What makes this more difficult is that many people who drink coffee in the afternoon to stay awake have trouble falling asleep at night and don't realize that this is part of that connection. And even decaffeinated coffee often still has at least a little caffeine, and if taken at night may still impede sleep.

Fat. High-fat foods are not a good idea for healthy sleep. Many studies have found connections between overweight and obesity and problems sleeping. There are a number of possible causes for this, and one of them may be fat in the diet. Some of our recent data has shown that older women who ate more fat -- irrespective of their weight, exercise or total amount of food they ate -- slept less overall.

Water. As people get older -- especially men -- getting up to go to the bathroom can interrupt sleep, and then it can be difficult to get back to sleep. If you find yourself waking up to go to the bathroom, you may be drinking too much water at night.

Heavy or Spicy Food. One food-related problem that can interfere with sleep is heartburn and reflux. Many people are on medications to control these, and they are closely related to the foods we eat. For a number of reasons, reflux can get worse at night, as you are falling asleep. And you may not even notice that this is what is making you uncomfortable. But if you are having a restless night and you ate a particularly heavy or spicy meal late in the day, that could be part of the problem.

Tea. Tea is relaxing and soothing. And, in many ways, good for you. But tea (real tea, not herbal infusions like chamomile) contain caffeine. Some teas contain more than others, depending on how they are harvested and processed, but caffeinated teas should generally be avoided at night.

Alcohol. Alcohol is good at putting us to sleep, but it makes our sleep more restless. Also, a few hours after ingestion, the alcohol becomes a substance that can act as a stimulant, so 3-5 hours after falling asleep, you may be wide awake, tired, and unable to fall asleep.

Grandner also has a few tips of items that are on his not-so-bad list:

•    Milk and cookies. Healthier options might be better for you, but the sugar gives you the immediate satisfaction and the starch keeps you from being hungry during the night. The milk is relaxing and soothing, but there probably isn't enough tryptophan to have a measurable effect.

•    Chocolate. Chocolate has some caffeine, but probably enough to affect your sleep.

•    A glass of wine. There is probably not enough alcohol in one glass of wine after dinner to cause problems for sleep. Of course, some people are more sensitive to alcohol, though.

•    Herbal infusions. These are really not teas, since they have no tea leaves, but they are called infusions. Chamomile and valerian are commonly used to help with sleep and may help because of their relaxing and calming qualities. You need to be careful, since some plants are stimulating rather than relaxing, and people's bodies react to different plants in different ways, but in general, herbal "teas" are probably okay at night.