Getting a good night’s sleep should be one of the easiest and most natural things to do. But busy lives and hectic schedules make us less apt to eat properly, and bad food habits can prevent us from developing good sleep hygiene.
When we’re busy, we tend to eat less than we should during the day, and then much more than necessary in the evening, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing,” says Luigi Gratton, M.D., vice president, worldwide product marketing for Herbalife.
Dr. Gratton suggests being aware of how certain foods can affect our sleep pattern. Protein-heavy foods stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain that keep us alert, and large meals eaten just before bed can lead to indigestion and heartburn – a perfect pairing to keep you up at night.
Low-fat, high carbohydrate meals are digested more quickly, and stimulate the production of different brain chemicals – ones that help aid relaxation and facilitate sleep. So it’s best to opt for a high protein breakfast and lunch to keep you alert and clear-headed all day, and save the carbohydrates for dinner.
If you’re like most people, caffeine is a stimulant, so a cup of java before you hit the sack is probably unwise. Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt normal sleep patterns; you might be able to fall asleep, but not for long. This makes it hard to reach the deepest – and most restful – stage of sleep, so that even with a full eight hours, you still feel sluggish in the morning. Chances are you’ll also be roused from sleep by a full bladder, since both caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics.
Whether to snack or not before you go to bed depends on your usual patterns. If your evening meal is small and light (and early), then a light snack is fine if you feel it helps you sleep and you can afford the calories. Calcium-rich foods like milk and yogurt are good choices, since calcium helps muscles to relax.
- Have a lighter dinner, focused on salad, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. A bowl of lentil soup with a salad and some fruit for dessert
- If you know that caffeine keeps you awake, avoid caffeine-containing beverages for 6-8 hours before going to bed
- Keep your alcohol intake moderate to avoid sleep disruption
- Drink most of your fluids during the day, and cut back after dinner. If you need to take medications at bedtime, use only a small amount of water
- If you like to have a bedtime snack, include foods that are high in calcium to induce muscle relaxation. A cup of warm milk is an age-old remedy for sleeplessness, and for good reason.
Susan Bowerman is director of nutrition training at Herbalife.