As we enter the long-awaited spring months the clocks have gone forward and the days are finally getting longer. After the long slog of winter, the brighter evenings might have messed up our night time routines. But did you know, what we eat before bed can affect our quality of sleep?
Getting good sleep is incredibly important for your overall health. It may reduce your risk of developing certain chronic illnesses, keep your brain healthy, and boost your immune system. But for those of us that enjoy a little snack before bed, there are certain things we should avoid eating before nodding off. We spoke to a London nutritionist to get all the best advice.
READ MORE:The best and worst foods to have for breakfast if you are desperate to lose weight, according to a nutritionist
The worst foods and drinks to consume
Caffeine and Sugar
It sounds obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded. Caffeine is a stimulant – which is the opposite of what you want when you’re preparing for a relaxing sleep. And sugar gives you energy – not ideal when we want to be winding down.
British television presenter and registered Nutritional Therapist Thalia Pellegrini, 46, explained: “Sugar and caffeine mess with your blood sugar. Our blood sugar falls naturally in the night anyway but anything that causes a big drop in the night might wake you up or make you feel lousy in the morning.
Make sure you check the nutrition labels. Many foods have caffeine, even when you may not expect it. Tea and soda are usually caffeinated unless labeled otherwise.
Caffeine and sugar make it more difficult to slip into the deeper stages of sleep and decrease the amount of REM sleep you would normally get.
Sugary foods, such as ice-cream and sweets, send blood sugar levels spiking at first, which then crash whilst you are asleep. A crash in blood sugar alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency, which, in turn, increases cortisol levels, and wakes the body from slumber.
It may seem like a few beers, a couple of glasses of wine or a nightcap help you fall asleep. However, alcohol, especially in excess, can be detrimental before going to bed.
“Alcohol probably does help you doze off,” Thalia said. “but it interrupts the natural sleep cycle later on during the night. This can decrease the amount of restorative REM sleep that you get. Even if you fall asleep quickly, you won’t wake feeling rested”.
Consuming alcohol relaxes all the muscles in the body which can exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea and snoring – which can constantly wake you up throughout the night. This is all before accounting for the ‘hangxiety’ that alchohol can cause the next day – which can prevent you from getting to sleep at all.
Too much salt dehydrates the body and increases water retention, causing tiredness and fatigue.
A study at the European Society of Endocrinology found that salty foods, such as crisps and salted nuts, were some of the worst foods to eat before bed as they contributed to disrupted – or “superficial” – sleep. Experts recommend staying away from salty foods at least two to three hours before bed if you need a good sleep.
And if nothing else, waking up to grab a glass of water is just a downright pain.
The best food to eat before bed
If you’re getting a bit peckish before bed, there are some snacks that are nutritionist-approved.
Thalia said: “I always recommend something small – some oat cake, carrots and humous, cold chicken or turkey. They are great because help to sleep tryptophan – which helps us sleep.”
Tryptophan is one of many amino acids found in foods that contain protein. Research has shown that increasing tryptophan in the blood directly increases both serotonin and melatonin – both feel-good hormones which improve our sleep-wake cycle and the quality and quantity of our sleep.
Cherries are known for being one of the best foods for sleep as they naturally contain melatonin. Snacking on cherries or drinking cherry juice can help promote longer, deeper sleep
Bananas are a great food all-round, but if you usually eat a banana for breakfast, you might want to think about enjoying this exotic fruit before bed instead.
They are one of the best foods for sleep, due to their high levels of magnesium which relax the muscles and calm the body. Try sliced banana with a tablespoon of natural nut butter before bed if you seek a good night’s sleep.
When should I be eating in the evening?
Eating a meal too close to bedtime may actually harm your sleep, especially if it’s a large amount of food. As a general rule of thumb, nutritionists will tell you to wait about three hours between your last meal and bedtime.
This allows some digestion to occur and gives time for the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine.
Eating also prompts the release of insulin, a hormone that helps your body use the food for energy. This process can shift the circadian rhythm, or your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Food can signal wakefulness in the brain and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
But if after you’ve eaten you need a pre-sleep snack – just be sure it’s not any of the vetoed foods mentioned above. Sweet Dreams.
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