How to Eat for Better Sleep

Woman in bed eating pizza

You may have some ideas about what food does to your sleep. Are they true or just rumors? Studies have been done to find out which foods impact your rest – and also how your rest impacts your digestion. Read on to learn how and what to eat to sleep better and wake up refreshed.

Eat Right

Focus on foods that have vitamins and minerals linked to better sleep, especially if you eat late (or snack later). Serotonin is a great one, which can be found in salmon, skim milk, and kiwi. Many people already take melatonin for sleep, but it can be found naturally in foods like cherries, oats, and tomatoes. Tryptophan, which you know from turkey, is an amino acid that helps the body product serotonin, so can be helpful to sleep. This can also be found in peanut butter, walnuts, and cottage cheese. Magnesium will help relax muscles, so eat some bananas or almonds to unwind. Spinach is a super-sleep food – it has both magnesium and vitamins that are key in synthesizing serotonin and melatonin.

What about warm milk? It has tryptophan in it. So warming it up is optional, as you get the benefits at any temperature – but warm milk can also soothe and relax. Other drinks can also offer safe sedatives, like passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile, or valerian tea. 

Avoid These Foods

Caffeine is a pretty obvious thing to avoid if you want to fall asleep. That means tea, coffee – and chocolate. Sad but true. A bar of 70% dark chocolate has over half the caffeine of a cup of coffee.

Many people have a nightcap to help them relax before bed. Alcohol might seem a good bet because it causes relaxation. But it’s actually recommended to avoid alcohol before bed because it prevents REM, which means the sleep you’re getting isn’t truly restful. 

Any food that your body has trouble has to work hard to process should be avoided too. Fatty foods take longer to digest, and sugar causes rapid changes in blood sugar. Spicy food, or anything that gives you gas or heartburn need to be avoided. While hydration is good, try not to drink too much water right before bed. If it gives you discomfort, you might think you can sleep through it, but it will give you lower quality rest - if you’re not just tossing and turning, or getting up to go to the bathroom.

Stay on a Food Schedule

The times you eat can impact your sleep. While fasting is popular, studies showed that people who fast got 40 minutes less sleep a night. They attribute this to the change in your body’s hormones throughout the day. Watch when you eat. Eating a heavy meal, or even just heavy food, late in the day means your body has to work to digest. If it’s working, it’s not resting. It takes about three hours to digest a normal dinner, so it’s best to stop eating three hours before you want to be asleep. Any snacks should be small, and hopefully light, at least an hour before bed.

Know How to Break the Rules

Everyone wants a midnight snack sometimes. Not only can it disrupt your sleep, though, eating during the sleep cycle makes it more likely that you’ll store the food as fat. Since you’re going right back to lying down, it’s also more likely to result in acid reflux and other issues. Then again, it’s not good to have an empty stomach - hunger can keep you up. Stay balanced with the foods on the “good” list above and ignore your sugar cravings. A piece of whole-wheat bread with almond butter is perfect.

There are plenty of times when you don’t get dinner until late. To help your body digest while you sleep, sleep on the left side. Gravity will work with your organs to get things where they need to go. 

To help with acid reflux, sleep with your upper body elevated. This can help keep the acids down in the stomach rather than rising up to cause problems.

However, if you’re looking for a more interesting night, eating closer to bed has been shown to cause more unique dreams. A study showed that dairy and spicy foods gave the participants increasingly bizarre and disturbing dreams. This might be because they weren’t sleeping as well and remembering the dreams later. 

Eating in Bed

It’s a decadent feeling to stay in bed eating pizza and ice cream while streaming your favorite show. Try not to do it too often. If you’re already in bed, you might fall asleep too soon, and we already know that leads to poor sleep. If you’re lying down while you eat, it might also mean an increased risk of indigestion and heartburn. Being off your schedule, or distracted, can lead to over-eating, which is bad for your health and your sleep. While the occasional movie night won’t cause too many issues, you don’t want to start associating the bed with food and other stimuli instead of peaceful and relaxing sleep. 

Then there’s the food itself. Staining your favorite comforter is a real concern, but it’s the crumbs that cause even more yucky problems. Even if you change your sheets, bits of food can get into the mattress, box spring, or under the bed. Crumbs means bugs, which are a sleeping companion you don’t want.

To reduce the risk, you can get a metal platform bed - without a box spring there are fewer places for bugs to hide, and wood slats are more welcoming to bed bugs than metal.

Here’s to eating well and sleeping even better!

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