Unable to sleep

Is Food Sabotaging Your Sleep: Change Your Diet to Improve Sleep

Foods that can affect your sleep and cause insomnia? 

Certain foods can disrupt your sleep patterns, affecting your sleep and make it harder to get the rest you need. So which foods affect sleep? In this article, we’ll explore some of the worst offenders when it comes to foods that affect sleep.  

When you have insomnia, you will find it hard to fall asleep and also struggle to stay asleep. Lack of sleep then makes you feel tired during the day and can make it hard to concentrate and focus. This impacts your life, by affecting your mood, resilience, and immunity. All of which can lead to other health problems and diseases. While there are many potential causes of insomnia, diet may be one of them.

 

Caffeinated beverages

Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can make it difficult to fall asleep in the first place. More significantly, tends to wake you up during the night. It also acts as a diuretic, which means it makes you need to go to the toilet. This also contributes to waking you up during the night, which is the last thing you need if you struggle to sleep due to insomnia. Caffeine takes several hours to be broken down and leave your body completely so it is best not consumed after mid-day. Avoid coffee late at night to get a better night's sleep

Caffeine and anxiety

Something else worth considering is the link between caffeine and anxiety. Caffeine acts on the central nervous system, and while many people get a temporary boost of energy after drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage, others experience feelings of jitteriness and restlessness. This is because excessive caffeine intake can lead to even higher levels of anxiety, which in turn can trigger insomnia.

Studies have shown that people who struggle with chronic anxiety often exhibit symptoms of insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. These issues can continue to fuel each other, creating a cycle of caffeine-induced anxiety that leads to ongoing sleep loss.

Ultimately, it is important for individuals with anxiety to be mindful of their caffeine intake in order to minimize the risk of additional sleep struggles. Something worth noting is that women tend to drink slightly less coffee than men. However, it causes their blood pressure to rise more than their male counterparts. This link between high blood pressure and insomnia is another reason to ditch the caffeine.   

 

Caffeinated Foods

I’m williong to bet that you didn’t realise that some foods contain caffeine. Foods that contain cocoa or chocolate (especially dark chocolate) also contain caffeine. This is due to the presence of a related chemical called theobromine. Additionally, many over-the-counter pain medications also contain caffeine as an active ingredient. If you suffer from insomnia, it may be better to take this before mid-day. Then stick to medication without caffeine for the rest of the day. While caffeine has been linked to various health benefits in moderate amounts, it is still important to be mindful of your overall daily intake. This helps to avoid negative side effects like anxiety or sleep disruption. That cup of cocoa at night might be worth giving a miss and having a malted milk drink instead.  

Something that may not occur to you is the idea that our genes can impact the way that we respond to caffeine. Biological variations of specific genes can play an important role in determining how even a small dose of caffeine can impact your sleep.  

The influence of your genes on your response to caffeine is quite significant and cannot be ignored. Do you have trouble getting good sleep even after consuming just a small amount of caffeine? If so, it may be worth finding out if you are genetically predisposed to respond differently to others.  

Something to bear in mind is that if you don’t sleep well, you may be tempted to drink coffee, or so-called energy drinks, to keep yourself awake and focused during the day. Unfortunately, this will have a counterintuitive effect, disrupting your night-time sleep.  

If you’re struggling with insomnia, it’s best to avoid caffeine in the evening or maybe completely.  

Spicy foods

While there is no direct link between spicy foods and insomnia, they can indirectly lead to sleep problems. This is because they can cause heartburn and indigestion, which are both associated with difficulty falling asleep.  

If you are already suffering from heartburn and indigestion, lying down will make it worse. This is because stomach acid can creep up into the throat and, on its way, it burns the delicate lining of the tube linking the stomach with the throat (oesophagus). Strangely, eating spicy foods, such as those flavoured with ginger, chilli or pepper, raises the body’s temperature. Good sleep hygiene protocols recommend that lower temperatures are conducive to quality sleep, so if you suffer from insomnia, anything that raises your temperature is a no-no! 

Spicy food and nightmares

There is anecdotal evidence that spicy foods affect sleep. this evidence suggests they can lead to nightmares and bizarre dreams. There is no scientific research to back this up. However, there is evidence to show that high temperatures, such as fever, can induce these upsetting images while you are asleep. While this is a tenuous link, there may be some truth in it. If you like spicy food and are having bad dreams that disturb your sleep, take the hint! 

With all that said, if you struggle with insomnia, it may be worth trying to avoid spicy food within three hours of turning in for the night. 

Fatty foodsAvoid high glycemic foods especially in the evening

Picture the scene; you have had a great night out, the bars are all emptying and you hit the chip shop. While those chips and a greasy kebab may sound appealing, especially when your senses are dulled with alcohol, is it really a good idea to eat such a high-fat meal so close to bedtime? As with spicy foods, meals high in fat, especially saturated fat, can make it hard to sleep.

When you go to bed, the digestive system slows down. Your body is built to digest food during the day, not at night. Therefore, a lack of enzymes and slow digestion during the evening and night can lead to indigestion. This is compounded by lying down, as gravity isn’t helping the food travel through your gut. So, eating high-fat foods close to bedtime affects your sleep because you are kept awake or wake up due to the pain and discomfort in your stomach and gut.  

On top of that, how quickly you fall asleep, the quality of your sleep and the restorative and repairing benefits of sleep are all affected by eating fatty foods close to hitting the sack. Unfortunately, this is worse if you happen to be a woman! 

One study has also suggested that the metabolism of fatty foods reduces the signal for melatonin (the sleep hormone) to be released. This is a very complicated biological process, involving the enzyme P-elF2α that goes on inside cells. 

So the take home message, if you suffer from insomnia, is that fatty foods are best avoided close to bedtime, and preferably restricted completely.  

Sugar

During the night, we don’t tend to eat, or at least we shouldn’t. This gives our digestive system a chance to repair and rest. Enzymes and hormones that have been used for digestion during the day are broken down. This helps to reset your gut for a fresh start the next day.

Avoid sugary foods in the evening

Most people have a store of fat, providing enough energy for the body to sustain itself for a few hours without food. However, if we eat a high-sugar or high-glycaemic meal in the evening, it can cause a temporary energy boost and make us feel wired.

The rapid release of sugar into the bloodstream that is closely followed by a sugar crash can make us feel hungry. That can make it difficult to sleep. Going to bed hungry is not what you want, especially if you suffer from insomnia. The urge to eat something else will compound the problem with undigested food in the gut at bedtime. This leads to indigestion and heartburn, as explained in the fatty foods section.  

Many people have a hot milky drink before bed. If that is something you do, avoid adding sugar as this food has been linked to having an effect on the length of time that you sleep for.  

Eating sugary foods before bed can cause disturbed sleep due to bad dreams or nightmares. If you want sweet dreams, avoid sugar before bedtime.  

If you struggle to sleep, it may not have occurred to you that the food you eat can affect your sleep. While there are other foods that can cause insomnia, caffeine, fat, sugar and spices are the main offenders. You are now armed with the knowledge of what foods affect sleep. Hopefully, struggling with insomnia will now no longer be a problem. 

For more information on how to improve sleep, you might find this article helpful.

References

The link between caffeine and insomnia

How processed carbs affect your sleep

How food and diet disturb sleep

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