Have you ever had a bad night’s sleep, only to find yourself craving fatty or sugary foods the next day? Or felt like you needed a nap after a big meal? A bad night’s sleep could cause you to eat more the next day and the type of food you eat could be affecting the quality of your sleep.
A recent paper published in the Journal of Health Psychology explores the link between bad quality sleep and food intake, this research found that after a bad night of sleep, you may be inclined to eat more. A few reasons for this are, after a poor night of sleep:
- Leptin and ghrelin, which are the two key opposing hormones in regulating your appetite, are affected.
- Emotional stress is greater.
- More food is needed to compensate for your lack of energy.
- Your impulsivity is increased.
All of these things can lead to an increased intake of food throughout the day. Having a diet that’s full of the wrong foods and irregular meal times can then harm your sleep the next night. This can create a vicious cycle which could lead to the many associated health risks of an increased intake of food, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The type of food that you eat can also affect the way that you sleep with many which can encourage sleep and some that do the opposite.
Types of Food Good for Sleep
Here are a few of the foods which could aid you in getting a good night’s sleep:
- Foods which contain tryptophan – This is an amino acid which can make you feel sleepy. Foods which contain this include: dairy products such as milk and yogurt; other foods containing calcium such as kale; turkey; fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna; spinach; legumes; oats; almonds; and peanuts.
- Foods containing melatonin – This is the chemical which helps to control our circadian rhythm (natural body clock), and it can also help to aid sleep. Cherries contain melatonin and one study found that drinking tart cherry juice can reduce the severity of insomnia. Walnuts also contain melatonin and chickpeas are rich in vitamin B6 which is needed to make the chemical.
- A meal high in carbohydrates can also help you to sleep. Complex carbs such as fortified cereals, whole grain bread, pasta and crackers, brown rice and sweet potatoes are all good to help you sleep as they do not reduce your serotonin levels like simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries and cakes.
- Jasmine rice is also a carbohydrate good for sleep as one study found that when participants had jasmine rice four hours before they went to bed, it shortened the amount of time that it took them to go sleep.
- Foods containing magnesium - Bananas are good for sleep as they contain magnesium and potassium, both of which are natural muscle relaxants. Whole grains and almonds also contain magnesium, which is another reason that they are a good choice of food before going to bed. One study found a connection between magnesium deficiency and waking up throughout the night so it is important that you have some in your diet.
- Herbal tea, particularly chamomile can also help you to sleep as it has a mild sedative effect. Herbal teas do not contain any caffeine, unlike regular tea which would keep you awake.
Types of Food Bad for Sleep
There are also many foods which can make it difficult for you to sleep or affect your sleep quality. These include:
- Caffeine – We’ve all been told that having coffee before bed is a bad idea, but any food or drink containing caffeine can make you struggle to get to sleep including most fizzy drinks and chocolate. Caffeine works as a stimulant for your nervous system, keeping you awake and alert so should not be consumed six hours before you go to bed.
- Alcohol – Many people use alcohol in order to aid sleep but this is not a wise choice. Although it can make some people calm and aid falling asleep, it can disturb you by causing you to wake up several times throughout the night. This causes the overall quality of sleep to be very poor, as it doesn’t allow you to enter into the deep stage of sleep that is needed in order for your body to restore itself. In the morning you can then wake up feeling dehydrated and sleep deprived and may even get a hangover if you drank large quantities, causing you to have headaches and/or feel nauseous.
- A high protein meal – Protein takes a long time to digest so when you eat a high protein meal before bed, your body is concentrating on digesting and not sleeping. Having a meal which is high in carbohydrates with some protein and vegetables as part of a balanced meal is much better for sleep.
- Fatty foods – Although you may crave fatty foods after a bad night’s sleep, they can hinder sleep. Fatty foods can give you a boost of energy which is short lived, followed by a drop in energy levels, making you feel tired, this disrupts your body’s natural rhythm and then causes cravings for more, encouraging a cycle which results in you not being tired at the right times. Fatty foods also stimulate the production of acid in the stomach, which can cause heartburn.
- Spicy foods –A study was conducted which found that young men who put tabasco sauce and mustard on their evening meal were more likely to have disturbed sleep than those who did not. The study found that the spicy food elevated their body temperature during the first sleep cycle, which may be a cause of the sleep disturbances. Spices can also be another cause of heartburn so it is a good idea to avoid them when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.
- Simple carbohydrates – Having a meal with lots of complex carbohydrates is great for sleep. However, it is best to avoid simple carbohydrates such as breads, pasta and sugary foods such as cakes, biscuits and pastries as these can reduce serotonin levels and affect your sleep.
- Foods containing the amino acid tyramine – Tyramine converts to noradrenaline in the body, which works as a brain stimulant. Foods including tyramine include, pork, cheese, chocolate, aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes and wine.
Right before you go to sleep it’s not a good idea to eat a big meal. However, there are some snacks that you can eat right before bed which could help you to sleep. The perfect bedtime snack is one that contains both carbohydrates and some form of protein, so cereal with milk or cheese with crackers are perfect. Take a look at these recipes to find some meals and snacks that could help you to get a better night’s sleep:
Homemade Muesli (via BBC.co.uk)
With oats and milk containing tryptophan, and almonds for magnesium, a small bowl would make a perfect snack before bed, you could also add walnuts which contain melatonin.
In order to sleep well, you should have a meal high in carbohydrates four to six hours before you plan to go to sleep. Here are some recipes you could try to incorporate some of the foods that are good for sleep:
Turkey Kale Soup (via goop.com)
Turkey and kale both contain tryptophan so this soup is great to have for your evening meal. Serve with some whole grain bread to fill up on carbohydrates and you should have a great night’s sleep.
Turkey Hotpot (via jamieoliver.com)
This recipe contains turkey which is high in tryptophan, chickpeas which help make melatonin and can be served with rice to form a high carbohydrate meal which will have you feeling sleepy. (Although you shouldn’t be tempted to eat a portion of this comfort food which is too large because having too much food can decrease your sleep quality.)
Kale, White Bean & Sweet Potato Korma (via goop.com)
This vegan korma recipe contains kale which is full of tryptophan and sweet potatoes which are good for sleep (but you should pass on the red chilli flakes or you could find yourself waking up in the night!).
Salmon and Jasmine Rice (via nigella.com)
Salmon contains tryptophan and jasmine rice has been proven to shorten the amount of time it takes to get to sleep so coupling these two together in a meal is likely to give you a good night’s sleep.