Sleep Better By Eating Right

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Sleep
on March 1, 2012

Wondering if counting carbs during the day can affect whether you’re counting sheep at night? What you eat does impact how you sleep. Here’s how.

Sleep Slayers

The science behind what hurt sleep is much more definitive than foods that help with sleep. Public enemy No. 1? Caffeine.

“Many things have caffeine that people don’t recognize,” says Dr. Karl Doghramji, director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center. “We know coffee and tea do, but colas, soft drinks and chocolate also do.” Because caffeine can linger in your system for up to 10 hours, Dr. Joanne Getsy, medical director of the Drexel Sleep Center, recommends not having any after lunchtime.

Another popular late-night indulgence is alcohol, which many swear helps them fall asleep. While this may be true, the quality of your slumber is compromised with a nightcap. “Alcohol certainly helps decrease the time to fall asleep, but once alcohol gets metabolized, it has this response to wake you up,” says Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute. It also makes sleep apnea worse.

RELATED: How Sleep Affects Your Weight

Sleepy Snacks?

If you’ve always thought tucking yourself in with a snack was the best thing to do, that may not be the case. Doghramji says that eating or drinking lots of liquids within four hours of bedtime is a bad thing for those prone to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which involves stomach contents and acid leaking into the esophagus and waking the person up.

“Some folks are prone to reflux and may not know it,” Doghramji says. “If you’re having a small snack and you kind of wake up afterward and feel more groggy, you should probably avoid it, or if you have heartburn, then definitely avoid it.”

If you have the opposite problem and can’t snooze without a bite to eat, go for something very small that gives you the feeling of being full without actually filling your stomach. Try proteins like peanut butter on crackers or a little bit of milk, recommends Dr. Getsy. Avoid sweets, as they’ll be digested quickly and give you energy. “There’s no food that will definitely make you sleepy, but a little snack is good so that you don’t wake up hungry,” she says.

Sleep Trials

Since everyone’s digestive system is different, you may just have to experiment with what works for you, paying attention to the link between what you eat and your subsequent quality of sleep.

“There’s a lot of pseudo-science out there saying this is good for sleep and that’s bad for sleep,” Doghramji says. “There are so many individual differences. Some people will claim they have carbs and can’t sleep at night, and some have carbs and sleep like babies. Sometimes it has to be a matter of trial and error, unfortunately.”