How What You Eat Impacts Sleep

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Sleep can be a fickle thing. We need it to function properly, but the demands of a busy work schedule, hectic family calendar, and an active lifestyle can leave us on the wrong end of what we would call a healthy sleep cycle. A study from the CDC shows that every one in three Americans suffers from the effects of sleep deprivation on a regular basis. But what about those of us who usually get the recommended 7+ hours of sleep and still feel like a zombie during the day? 

The solution to your sleep dilemma might be found by examining what you eat. The connection between diet and sleep has been thoroughly researched by the scientific community in recent years, and while we may not yet know all the answers, we now have a much better idea of why you’re having problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling refreshed once you’re awake. Let’s explore some dietary rabbit holes that may be the source of your brain fog and grogginess.


High-fat, low-fiber diets

It may seem obvious that an unhealthy diet leads to a variety of health problems, but you may not know just how big of an impact it has on your ability to reach the REM sleep cycle that your body needs to function at maximum capacity. Research shows that high-fat diets that stack up cholesterol and ignore fiber requirements can cause us to wake up in the middle of the night. Even if these interruptions are brief, they prevent us from reaching the deep sleep that rejuvenates our bodies and minds.

Solution: Replace the fatty, sugary parts of your diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat proteins.

Eating too much or too little

When your daily schedule seems to only get busier and more hectic, it’s all too easy to skip out on your meals throughout the day or push dinnertime back to later hours in the evening. The result? You’re more likely to eat a bigger meal closer to bedtime. Overeating before bed can cause a dietary imbalance that disrupts sleep cycles as well as packs on the extra pounds. 

On the flip side, not eating enough before we go to sleep can leave us hungry and under-nourished once we tuck ourselves in. This can also have an adverse effect on sleep, keeping us awake, interrupting our sleep, or feeling foggy in the morning.

Solution: Eat every 2-3 hours after waking up to maintain energy throughout the day, and make a point to eat dinner before 8 pm. If you have to snack on something between dinner and bedtime, try finding some healthy carbohydrates to keep your stomach from rumbling. Just remember, moderation is key.

Late-night heartburn

It’s hard to stay away from the spicy foods, even for those of us who suffer from heartburn and acid reflux. People with nighttime heartburn can find trying to stay asleep to be almost impossible, and over time can suffer even worse problems, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. 

Solution: Stay away from the spice for at least three hours before bedtime. If spicy foods hit you particularly hard, avoid kicking it up a notch for even longer before bedtime. 

Alcohol and caffeine

A couple of beers or a glass of wine before bed may seem like a logical way to help induce sleep, but this can turn into a dangerous cycle. Although you may fall asleep faster, the quality of that sleep will be worsened and can lead to daytime sleepiness and brain fog the following day. If alcohol consumption turns into a routine, it can worsen existing sleeping issues and cause greater health problems. 

On a similar token, caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soda, and tea can keep you awake and disrupt sleep. Even if consumed early in the day, caffeine can linger in the body and affect your ability to fall asleep. 

Solution: Find non-caffeinated alternatives to your favorite beverage when it’s getting close to bedtime. Caffeine affects all of us differently, so be aware of your tolerance and know when to steer clear. Stay mindful of hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, energy bars, and weight loss medication, that may be keeping you awake without you even knowing it.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let your eating habits keep you from reaching your optimal level of sleep. So much of our lives depend on being fully present and alert during the day. Making a few small changes could go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep, and you may just find yourself losing weight in the process.