8 Connections Between Diet and Sleep

Updated: Jul. 14, 2017

What you eat or drink in the hours and minutes before bed may make the difference between a restful slumber and a fitful night of tossing and turning.

1. Eating too much or too little can disrupt sleep. A light snack at bedtime can promote sleep, but too much food can cause digestive discomfort that leads to wakefulness.

2. Alcohol is a double edged sword. Small amounts of alcohol can help you to fall asleep. But as the body metabolises the alcohol, sleep may become fragmented. Alcohol makes insomnia worse and impairs rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the time when the body is in its restorative phase. It can also dehydrate you, leaving you tired the next day.

3. Caffeine can disturb sleep. For some people, any food or beverage with caffeine in it can disturb sleep. If you are sensitive to caffeine, avoid it in the afternoon and evening.

4. Cut the fat. If you have a high-fat meal in the evening or eat foods that cause you indigestion and heartburn, your sleep can be disturbed.

5. Do not eat late at night. Sufferers from heartburn or acid reflux should avoid late, heavy meals that delay the emptying of the stomach. Lying down with a full stomach encourages acids and gastric juices to flow up into the esophagus, causing heartburn that disturbs sleep.

6. Drinking fluids too close to bedtime can cause problems. Avoid fluids after dinner to reduce the need to go to the bathroom during the night.

7. Milk and honey promote sleep. Milk contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a natural dietary sleep inducer. Tryptophan increases the amount of serotonin, a natural sedative, in the brain. This is why so many folk remedies include warm milk with a spoonful of honey, a simple sugar. (Carbohydrates facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain.) A turkey sandwich is a sleep-inducing combination of tryptophan and carbohydrates. A banana with milk gives you vitamin B6, which helps to convert tryptophan to serotonin.

8. Helpful herbs.Many herbs are said to be useful for inducing sleep; one of the most popular and reliable is valerian. Its use as a sedative has been supported by research demonstrating that active ingredients in the valerian root depress the central nervous system and relax smooth muscle tissue. Valerian that is brewed into a tea or taken as a capsule or tincture can lessen the time it takes to fall asleep and produce a deep rest. It does not cause dependency or a 'hungover' feeling. It is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as it has not been studied for these conditions. Other remedies suggested for sleep problems include teas made of chamomile, hops, lemon balm and peppermint, but there is not much evidence that they work.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest