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Oh, to climb into bed at the end of a long day and drift off to dreamland! While that sounds ideal, it is soon becoming an elusive phenomenon – the stuff of dreams! What can we do about the sleep deficiency epidemic that’s hitting us? Could food have the answer?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, here’s the amount of sleep we need, depending on our age.
- Newborns: 14-17 hours
- Infants: 12-15 hours
- Toddlers: 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10-13 hours
- School-aged Children: 9-11 hours
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours
- Young Adults: 7-9 hours
- Adults: 7-8 hours
While these are ideal number we must all aspire to achieve, nearly 30% of the general population has some or the other sleep-related problem – including not being able to fall asleep, waking up too often during the course of sleep, not being able to fall back asleep after waking up, or feeling tired irrespective of the amount of sleep.
Given these statistics, is there a way we can solve this problem by looking at one of the most basic needs we have which affects our quality of life – food?
How Food Affects Your Sleep
It can be said without exaggeration that what we eat determines just about everything – how healthy we are, how well we can fight infections and diseases, and even the quality of our sleep. Two main ways in which the food you eat affects your sleep are:
1. Right Foods Induce Sleep
The right kinds of food can, in fact, induce sleep. They work in a number of ways – from regulating your body’s biological processes to helping in the synthesis of compounds that affect the quality of sleep.
2. Wrong Foods Inhibit Sleep
They either prevent the body from relaxing and make it difficult to fall asleep, or they stimulate the body, keeping you awake even if you are tired and want to fall asleep!
The quantity of food also matters. Eating a larger meal before going to bed can be a bad idea, according to Dr. Manasi Bapat, because “A large meal can aggravate gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) – this may cause heartburn, nausea, and can rob you of a good night’s sleep.” it is hence best to NOT eat till you are full. Stopping just short of this is a good practice.
20 Foods to Eat at Night
Did you know that about 70 million people worldwide suffer from insomnia? In fact, a lot of doctors are now advising that we look at our daily routines and habits to establish good sleep hygiene (best practices to follow in order to optimise quality and quantity of sleep). One way to do this is through food. So, let’s take a look at some of the best foods to eat before bed.
A good source of protein that will keep you satiated until breakfast the next day, eggs are easy to digest and can keep you feeling full. They are also a great way to pack in ‘large’ nutrition in ‘small’ quantities.
A slice or cube of cheese can be a good snack to have before going to bed. Cheese has good dairy fats, proteins, and also high satiety content.
This vegetarian source of protein is far easier to digest than paneer, and packs more nutrition too. A tofu salad could be a good option for a light yet filling dinner.
Who doesn’t crave something sweet before sleeping? We all do! One healthy ‘sweet’ you can have before going to bed is pineapple. Combine with cheese for the evergreen dessert/entree ‘cheese-pineapple’.
What Do These Foods Have In Common? – Tryptophan!
The sleep cycle in the human body is mostly governed by the hormone melatonin. The production of melatonin in the body keeps rising through the day, attaining maximum levels around sunset – at which point it induces sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is required to produce melatonin. That’s why it is a good idea to consume the above foods before going to bed.
A closed fistful of pistachios make for a healthy and filling pre-bedtime snack. Try and avoid the salted kind to prevent unnecessary extra salt consumption.
This pulpy fruit is loaded with good fats (unsaturated fats) that are bound to make you feel good in your tummy and thereby help improve your sleep quality. What’s more, they aid in digestion too!
7. Chicken Breast
For those with a larger appetite, looking for a more substantial dinner, a grilled chicken breast might do the trick. Not only will this meal help you feel full, it is also known to be a good ‘sleep hygiene’ practice.
A popular way to have chickpeas is in the form of humus. However, even if you have boiled chickpeas in a salad or a chickpea curry, they will carry the same benefits.
What Do These Foods Have In Common? – Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 (along with other B-complex vitamins) helps regulate tryptophan production in the body. Another connection between Vitamin B6 and sleep is the hormone serotonin. Optimum levels of serotonin are required for good quality sleep, and Vitamin B6 helps in maintaining these.
From weight loss to insomnia, broccoli is known to benefit the human body in a number of ways. Indeed, a superfood of the 21st century, include broccoli in your dinner in the form of soup or salad, or simply sauté broccoli with garlic cloves for a nice and light snack.
Spinach is another food that has umpteen benefits. One of the lesser-explored benefits of spinach is in improving sleep quality.
Most Indians are familiar with the practice of dunking a glass of milk before going to bed… now we know why this is such a commonly followed Indian bedtime ritual! Milk keeps the tummy calm and acts as a wonderful snooze-boost!
For those who cannot digest milk, yoghurt is a good alternative. Packed with similar benefits as those that milk has, yoghurt can be a good and ‘cool’ way to end a meal.
What Do These Foods Have In Common? – Calcium
The role of calcium in the quality of sleep was demonstrated by studies that investigated the effects of low calcium levels in the body: unregulated sleep patterns, lack of deep ‘REM’ sleep, and according to James F. Balch, “A lack of the nutrients calcium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep.”
13. Whole Grains
Whole grain Indian flatbread, a.k.a. roti (haha!), is a great food to include in your dinner for a better night’s sleep.
Eating almonds before bed is a practice Indians have followed traditionally – now we know why! Along with providing dietary fibre and unsaturated fatty acids, almonds are also recommended for their ability to induce good sleep fast.
figs do a world of good to women, especially for their mammary health. Whether consumed as fresh fruit, or in the dry fruit form, figs are potent sleep-inducers.
16. Dark Chocolate
Who doesn’t like a little bit of chocolate just before bed? With a cube of dark chocolate can be the perfect way to climb into bed at the end of a long day.
What Do These Foods Have In Common? – Magnesium
Magnesium too helps is regulating melatonin production in the body. However, an additional way in which it helps you fall asleep is by calming your nervous system down. Magnesium binds with the neurotransmitter GABA which inhibits neurotransmission, slowly ‘shutting down the CPU’ of the body.
17. Valerian Tea
a popular herb known for its flowers (which were used to make perfumes in the 16th century), valerian was also used as a sedative by Greek people. A cuppa valerian tea can calm your nerves down and help you fall asleep without any trouble.
18. Cherry Juice
loaded with melatonin (sleep-regulating hormone) and tryptophan, a glass of cherry juice can help increase the number of hours you sleep.
19. Passionfruit Tea
Harman alkaloids found in passion fruit are the reason this tea can help you fall asleep – this compound helps soothe the nervous system and thereby acts as a good sedative.
20. Peppermint Tea
Peppermint is a herb you would associate with feeling fresh, but the menthol in peppermint is also known to induce deep sleep by relaxing the muscles.
What Do These Foods Have In Common? – They’re all drinks!
Hydration is an important point to remember when talking about falling asleep. Water helps regulate all body processes, most importantly body temperature, which can be a factor to affect the quality of sleep. Dehydration can also break your sleep in the middle of the night, and a lot of people find it difficult to fall back asleep after being woken up.
5 Kinds of Foods to Never Eat Before Sleeping
Now that we have looked at foods to eat before bed to help you sleep, let’s turn our attention to foods you should avoid consuming just before going to bed.
Caffeine is the absolute worst thing you can have before going to bed! Caffeine is a stimulant, so rather than helping you sleep, it is going to keep you awake and alert longer (even if you are tired and actually want to sleep!). However, the degree of effect caffeine has on the body ranges cross a spectrum of ‘cannot sleep’ to ‘helps fall asleep’. That’s right – a few people actually report of being able to sleep better when they have coffee. This can happen if the body is normalised to caffeine – if you have caffeine every day (in the form of a daily cup of coffee, or colas and soft drinks, weight loss pills, pain-relievers, energy drinks, etc.), it is possible for your system to become ‘immune’ to the effects of coffee.
2. Diuretic Foods
A diuretic is a substance that makes the body throw water out of the system. Celery, carrots, cucumber, ginger, watermelons are all diuretic foods, and so is alcohol! So why is it a bad idea to have diuretic foods before going to bed? Because they’re going to make you get up to pee! While peeing is a natural bodily function, getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet can adversely affect the quality of your sleep – from finding it difficult to go back to sleep, to not achieving deep ‘REM’ sleep.
3. Spicy food
Chillis and hot peppers are a good way to drive sleep away, so unless you want to stay awake for at least a couple of hours, you should avoid eating spicy food before bed. One of the way spices affect our sleep is by triggering our gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Spices are also packed with good amount of antioxidants, which can serve to boost metabolism and serve as a wake-up call for the body, making it increasingly difficult to fall asleep. Finally, the high thermic effect of spicy foods can adversely affect sleep by raising body temperature.
4. Fatty foods
Fatty foods – like fries, chips, pizza, cheesy burgers, red meats etc. – are also known to affect sleep, but the connection is a bit complicated. Studies have shown that while a high-fat diet can make you want to hit the snooze button in the daytime, it disrupts your night-time sleep pattern. So doesn’t that add up? Not really. It is undisturbed and high-quality night-time sleep that really matters and has a positive impact on your help. Afternoon naps are good when you are feeling tired, or are unwell, but they cannot compensate for fragmented night sleep.
5. Carbs and Sugars
This is another tricky relationship to understand. It has been seen that high glycemic index foods (i.e. foods that ‘almost’ instantly give you a lot of energy) tend to make you fall asleep faster. However, it is not recommended to consume such foods – for example, desserts, confectionery, breakfast cereals, etc. – just before going to bed because after your body has digested these foods, the sudden drop in sugar-levels can make you feel hungry, although your body has enough energy and isn’t performing any ‘work’. Similarly, simple carbohydrates – like Fatty foods are also best avoided right before bedtime.
5 Melatonin Foods for Insomnia
Insomnia is a condition where a person is unable to fall asleep. While it is a legit medical condition that requires a doctor’s intervention, there are changes in your bed-time routine and diet that you can make, that can help you manage your insomnia better.
Rather than going the longer route and eating foods that regulate and/or boost melatonin production in the body, it is advisable for insomniacs to consume foods that contain melatonin. Here’s a list:
- Sweet Corn
Right Time to Eat Before Bed
You may be following all the above dos and don’ts of what not to eat before bed and what to eat before bed. However, one small thing that could undo all your efforts is: dinner time!
It takes the human body about 2 hours to fully digest a regular sized meal. Depending on the exact composition of your meal – mainly the proportion of carbs, proteins, fibres and fats – this might range from 2 to 4 hours. This is why it is advised to have your meals at least 3 hours before bedtime. However, on especially tiring days, when you’ve exhausted yourself, you might again feel hungry before going to bed. At such times, it is best to have a cup of milk.
Real Tips on Foods to Eat and Avoid from Dr. Manasi Bapat
We spoke to Dr. Manasi Bapat to get a better understanding of some common questions most people have about what to eat and what not to eat before bed.
“Eating fruits before bed is a good practice” ,Dr. Bapat said. This is owing to the low glycemic index that fruits have. They help in providing the body with a sustained source of energy through the sleep so that we don’t wake up in the middle of the night to grab a bite.
“Do not use the time before bed to complete your daily water goal” ,she further advised. A lot of times people do not drink water through the day, and then drink a lot of it just before going to bed. Not only does it make falling asleep difficult, it also can make you wake up in the night to pee, thereby disturbing your sleep cycle.
Finally, Dr. Bapat shared one important tip about our favourite comfort food and dessert – ice-creams! “Ice-creams can help you fall asleep, and a lot of times are recommended as a sweet end to the day. However, it is important to stress here that only milk ice-creams are recommended. Most ice-creams available these days fall under the category of ‘frozen desserts’ as they are not strictly made of milk but other non-dairy, ‘vegan’ ingredients.” So make sure you know what kind of ice-cream you are getting!
Sleep is at once one of the greatest joys and biggest necessities of life. Get started on including the right foods to ease yourself into a restful night’s sleep!