Most of us have been coaxed by loved ones, healthcare providers, friends, or someone else to eat a “healthier diet” at least once or twice in our lives. While familiar sayings, like an “apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and media outlets, like the cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor, who gets strong muscles after eating spinach, have helped promote the idea that the foods we eat directly affect our health. However, our diet affects even more than our growth and immune system and waistline. It can also affect your sleep!
There is a growing amount of information regarding the impact a person’s portion sizes and quality of food choices have on sleep duration in both children and adults. Let’s explore some of the foods and eating habits that may be reducing the amount of shuteye you get each night, as well as a few that might help improve your quality or amount of sleep too!
How Much We Eat
As researchers continue to learn more about how healthy eating can lead to healthy sleeping practices, the phrase “everything in moderation” comes to mind. Which is why the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that each person consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
The National Sleep Foundation has found that a diet high in saturated fat (a type of unhealthy dietary fat that mainly comes from animal food sources, such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products) and low in fiber (which is mainly found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can decrease the amount of deep sleep a person gets at night. While eating too much added sugar may cause a person to wake up more often during the night.
Meanwhile, a healthy balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in added sugars has been proven to help people fall asleep faster and potentially increase the number of hours of sleep a week, up to 2 hours!
What We Eat
If a “healthy diet” does help us achieve better sleep, what exactly does a “healthy diet” look like?
According to the CDC, healthy eating pattern includes:
A variety of vegetables (ex. bell peppers, spinach, carrots)
Fruits, especially whole fruits (ex. apples, grapes, bananas)
Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
Fat-free or low-fat dairy (ex. milk, yogurt, cheese)
A variety of protein foods (ex. seafood, eggs, lean meats)
Oils (ex. olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil)
For more information on how to implement the recommend healthy eating pattern above, visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Choose My Plate website or new mobile app! This Federal resource is free and available as an interactive reminder to build and maintain healthy eating patterns by making healthy choices across food groups!
Foods and beverages that may be negatively affecting your sleep:
o How: Keeps you awake
o Where to find it: caffeinated coffee, tea, and sodas; foods containing chocolate;
some over the counter medications (ex. pain relievers and diet pills)
o How: Drinking alcohol has proven to help people fall asleep quicker. However,
when the alcohol wears off, it can wake people during important sleep stages and
potentially worsen sleep apnea symptoms and the likelihood of sleepwalking.
o Where to find it: Beer, wine, liquor drinks, etc.
Spicy Foods & Condiments
o How: May cause heartburn
o Where to find it: hot sauce, red peppers, certain spices, etc.
o How: even healthy foods can trigger acid reflux
o Where to find it: citrus fruits, dark chocolate, garlic, onions, etc.
o How: May cause cramping, bloating, and diarrhea
o Where to find it: milk, cheese, ice cream, fatty cuts of meats, etc.
Healthy Sleep Hygiene Tips
Sleep hygiene is a variety of different habits and choices that are needed to have a good nighttime sleep and be fully awake during the daytime. Aside from a healthy diet, there are multiple other ways in which you can improve your quality or quantity of sleep.
Here are a few tips from The National Sleep Foundation for good sleep “hygiene”:
Limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes or less
Avoiding stimulants, such as nicotine close to bedtime
Creating a nightly, relaxing bedtime routine
Exercising to promote good quality sleep (avoiding intense exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime though)