What do French fries, hamburgers, and alcohol have to do asleep? A lot more than you might think. The food you put in your body and your personal habits can all come back to affect not only how much you sleep but how well you sleep too. With the right food, you can fall and stay asleep for the full seven hours of rest you need.
High Carbohydrates for an Early Bedtime
Meals high in carbohydrates can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. They act as regulators for the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which are biological signals that control any number of bodily functions in a 24-hour cycle.
High carb meals have also been shown to have a close relationship with temperature regulation. At the onset of sleep, your body temperature drops. Though scientists don’t know exactly how high carb meals are related to this effect, studies have shown that high carb meals lead to a faster drop in body temperature. Consequently, it doesn’t take as long to fall asleep.
More Protein to Knock Out Wakefulness
Falling asleep isn’t always the problem. Many people struggle to stay asleep, and that’s where protein comes into play. High protein diets and meals can reduce the number of times that you wake up during the night. However, not all protein is equal. The best results come from protein-rich foods high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey, salami, chicken, almonds, and eggs. It’s used by the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, both of which are essential to the proper timing of the sleep cycle.
Watch Out for These…
A balance of carbohydrates and proteins can help you sleep better, but other foods can get in the way.
Stimulants: Caffeine and similar stimulants block sleep hormones. They can stay in your system for several hours so it’s best to avoid them within four hours of bedtime.
High fat and fried: High-fat and/or fried foods can cause uncomfortable indigestion, bloating, and heartburn. If you have a sensitive stomach, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, and other acidic foods can lead to sleep-disrupting discomfort as well.
Alcohol: Alcohol may initially make you feel sleepy, but it leads to wakefulness several hours after you’ve fallen asleep. Alcohol causes the body to spend more time in the lightest of sleep stages, where it’s easier to be woken up. The resulting poor sleep then leads to daytime drowsiness.
How to Live (and Eat) for Better Sleep
Regular, Evenly Spaced Meals
The timing of your meals helps set your circadian rhythms. Eating your meals at roughly the same time every day and evenly spacing them trains the body to recognize when to start the sleep cycle.
Eliminate Bedroom Sleep Disruptors
Your sleep environment can have an impact on your sleep quality just as much as your food or behavior. A comfortable mattress that’s firm enough for your weight but soft enough for your preferred sleep style can prevent night waking and/or morning achiness.
Limit Your Screen Time
Screens are an integral part of life, but they can have a detrimental effect on the sleep cycle. They can emit a light that falls on the same spectrum as sunlight and similarly suppresses sleep hormones. Turning off your television, smartphone, iPad, or laptop two to three hours before bed assures that your sleep hormones are released on time.
A balanced diet full of complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein can regulate your sleep cycle. Be patient and give your body time to adapt. You may need to make a few changes to your schedule as well, but you have the power to improve your sleep.