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Top Ten Sleep Disturbances – #10 Food

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

FOOD for Thought: the impact of diet on sleep.

Young man is sitting in bed and eating chicken

What we eat and drink can have a huge impact on more than just our waistlines. In fact, certain foods and drinks can help promote wakefulness during the day or encourage sleep at night. What might first come to mind is caffeine consumption and the benefits of drinking caffeinated beverages earlier in the day. For those who enjoy coffee, starting the day with a regular cup of coffee and switching to decaf late afternoon till bed time is a great beginning! However, we are talking about more than just that “cup of Jo.”
Foods that help promote wakefulness (Wake foods):

  • Caffeinated foods and drinks: Coffee, teas, and chocolate
  • Protein rich foods: Meats, fish, cheese, yogurt
  • Foods that are higher in sodium: Sausage, bacon
  • Vitamin C rich foods: Oranges, strawberries, kiwis, cantaloupe
  • Sugary foods; earlier in the day is better than later in the day

Foods that help promote sleep (Sleep foods):

  • Whole grain foods: Popcorn, oatmeal, whole-grain crackers with a nut butter (Complex Carbohydrates)
  • Nuts: a great source of heat healthy fats. Almonds and walnuts (both contain melatonin)
  • Lean proteins: Lean meats and cheese (specifically cottage cheese)
  • Eggs: Great source of tryptophan
  • Sleepy time teas: Chamomile and ginger containing teas
  • Warm milk: Due to the tryptophan and melatonin it can improve sleep and there is a psychological link (comfort) often associated from childhood
  • Fruits: tart cherry juice and whole tart cherries, bananas, pineapple, grapes, and dried fruit all contain melatonin

In the United States, we often start our day with diets rich in simple carbohydrates and eat most of our protein later in the day. This is completely opposite of what we should be doing to help support our internal clocks. Start your day with protein-rich and foods, those rich in Vitamin-C, and any caffeinated foods. Reserve the carbs, those serotonin and tryptophan rich foods, for later in the day and evening. Per that National Sleep Foundation, an ideal bed time snack is foods that contain carbohydrates and a protein (2018). When eating carbohydrates, our brain produces serotonin; a chemical that will cause our bodies to calm and promote a pleasant mood. In turn, this allows for tryptophan to be more readily available to brain. Tryptophan in the brain then causes grogginess. Think now of how tempting a nap sounds following that Thanksgiving dinner!
What we eat, and when we eat it, is important. How much we eat in one sitting is as important. Another reason you may feel so tired after that tasty holiday meal, is the over-consumption of foods. The body now has to reroute more of its blood supply to the digestive system to help move the food through the system, making less blood and nutrients available to brain. To prevent this brain-drain, eat smaller portions of food more frequently throughout the day, still targeting the evening hours for those sleep-promoting foods.

Sleep and wakefulness are affected by diet.

You are not only what you eat, but when you eat, and how much you eat.

That is FOOD for Thought.

Evidence-Based Design Meets Evidence-Based Medicine: The sound sleep study. The Center for Health Design Research Coalition. Harvard Medical School, 2010. Retrieved from:
National Sleep Foundation: What is sleep hygiene? Retrieved from: https on Feb. 15, 2019.

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