Sleep Secrets: What's Keeping You Awake?

September 27, 2013

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, it may just be what you’re eating. Find out what to avoid here

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, it may just be what you’re eating. There are a number of foods that can make sleep difficult. Here are a few things you should avoid or limit so that you’re not left counting sheep each night.

Coffee. This may be obvious, but most people don't realize that caffeine can affect your ability to sleep for up to 12 hours, especially in people who are more sensitive. What makes this more difficult is that many people who drink coffee to beat the afternoon slump, have trouble falling asleep and sleeping at night and don't realize that their afternoon joe is to blame. Even decaffeinated coffee can have at least a little caffeine, and if taken at night may 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 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. Try and disperse your hydration throughout the day. 

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. Try eating dinner earlier and having a lighter meal at night. 

Tea. Tea is relaxing and soothing. And, in many ways, good for you. But tea (real tea, not herbal infusions like chamomile) contains 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.

Tips to send you off to sleep:

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. 

Other helpful meals and snacks include, pasta with Parmesan cheese, scrambled eggs and cheese, tofu stir-fry, hummus with whole wheat bread or crackers, tuna salad sandwich, chili with beans but not spicy! Make sure you don’t eat too late and keep the meals before bed light, control the portions.