Food choices can make all the difference when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.
If you struggle with falling and staying asleep, or wake up feeling tired, it might be time to take inventory of what you’re eating and when.
These eight diet habits can cause you to toss and turn, so avoid them for an uninterrupted slumber:
1. Consuming too much caffeine
Caffeine can interfere with sleep even when consumed up to six hours before bedtime, according to one study.
Caffeine interferes with the action of a chemical known as adenosine, which has sedative properties and builds up in the brain to signal sleep. The stimulant compound can also interfere with circadian rhythms, which can delay the onset of sleep.
In addition to coffee, caffeine is found in tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate. For a more extensive list of caffeine content from various sources, check out this chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
2. Eating big meals
That big creamy pasta or steak dinner may seem appealing if you haven’t eaten much all day, but a large, heavy meal can cause bloating, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
Additionally, fat takes longer to digest and can cause discomfort when lying down. Try avoiding high-fat meals for dinner, and wait at least two hours after eating before going to bed. “And don’t just sit on the couch and watch Netflix (after you eat) – do some stretching and move around a bit,” said Vandana Sheth, a California-based registered dietitian nutritionist who provides counseling about diet and sleep hygiene to clients.
If hunger hits before bedtime, “a light, low calorie snack may help to reduce hunger pangs that can disrupt sleep,” said Gary Zammit, executive director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York City, via email.
3. Consuming too much sugar
Avoid bedtime snacks containing lots of sugar, which can disrupt sleep. “Research suggests that high sugar intakes can predispose postmenopausal women to night sweats,” said Nancy Z. Farrell Allen, a Virginia-based registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
4. Spicy foods
Spicy foods can contribute to heartburn, making it difficult to fall asleep and causing discomfort during the night. Limit or avoid chiles, curry and other red-hot foods.
Additionally, highly acidic foods, especially soft drinks, can contribute to nighttime awakenings, Zamitt explained.
Having a glass of wine or a nightcap may help you fall asleep, but drinking before bedtime can disturb your sleep during the night, Farrell Allen explained. “It can hamper the amount of deep sleep we get, increase those nightly trips in the middle of the night to the bathroom, and dehydrate us with a resultant headache.”
“Limit the late-night alcohol consumption to 1 to 2 standard serving sizes, interspersed with water, and certainly call it quits a few hours before bedtime to give your body time to process these beverages,” Farrell Allen said via email.
6. Too many fluids
Consuming large amounts of any fluid in the evening can increase the frequency of urination, contributing to awakenings during the night. Try to avoid fluids close to bedtime to help ensure an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
7. Carrying too many or too few pounds
In addition to these offenders, carrying excess body weight may increase the risk of sleep apnea, which can affect the ability to breathe at night and be disruptive to sleep, Sheth said.
“A high body mass index is the most significant predictor of whether or not someone will be diagnosed with sleep apnea,” Zammit said.
Zammit pointed out that those who are too thin can also experience disruptions in sleep. “Individuals with anorexia or bulimia, who are severely underweight, often have a fragmented, insomnia-like sleep,” he said.
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8. Restricting calories during the day
Some people who severely restrict calories during daytime hours will rebound at night and consume food in the hours just before sleep and during the sleep period, which can contribute to sleep disturbances, Zammit explained.
“If people experience night eating, they should talk with their doctors about their dietary plan,” he added.
It no doubt can be tough switching your habits, but the changes will be well worth it in the long term.
If you need help, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a doctor, as Zammit suggests, or work with a registered dietitian nutritionist. (You can search for one in your area on the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.)
Above all, ease into any adjustments by tackling one at a time to set yourself on a solid path to sounder sleep.