Nighttime Nutrition: Eating Habits to Sleep By

Recently we talked about some good comfort foods that help combat snoring, but just eating certain foods to fight snoring is only half the battle. There are also some important considerations to keep in mind: eating_in_bedfoods to stay away from and the time of day you eat. Being aware of these factors may help of form a more cohesive strategy to help us become healthy and happy snoozers. There is also some serious gain to be had in generalizing your nutritional approach to include your health across the board rather than just targeting your health as it relates to sleep. To this end, we wrangled together a group of top-shelf nutritionists and dieticians to give us the low-down on some diet habits to form for good sleep and general health.

Nightmare Foods: What Not To Eat

Trying to imagine the usual suspects for food that can interrupt a peaceful sleep, you might think of a big gooey pile of pizza, booze and fried foods- and according to Lifestyle Nutritionist and Culinary communications consultant Vicki Shanta Retelny, you’d be right.

Vicki Shanta RetelnyToo many fatty foods like pizza, cheeseburgers and fries can wreak havoc on sleep and cause heartburn. Fat, particularly saturated fat, slows down digestion. If you want fried, fatty foods – have a sensible portion midday instead of midnight. Alcohol, on the other hand, can have a sedative effect, but will not allow you to sleep well. Drinking alcohol as much as six hours before bed can disturb sleep throughout the night. Alcohol can affect the brain’s chemical messengers that influence sleep and wake you up periodically throughout the night.

Another usual suspect at the top of the list is any food or beverage with caffeine. Of course very few people are brewing a nice hot pot of coffee before bed – your problem is obvious in that case. But it is easy to forget that caffeine hides in a lot of different foods. Nutritionist and author of Food & Mood and Eat Your Way to Happiness, Elizabeth Somer points out that if we don’t steer away from these foods, the caffeine may take a while to filter out and disturb our sleep in the process.

Elizabeth SomerNot only a midday cup of coffee or tea, but even a glass of cola or a chocolate doughnut contains enough caffeine to keep some people up at night. Caffeine can linger in the system for up to 15 hours, revving up your nervous system and interfering with sleep. If you are a coffee drinker troubled by sleep problems, try eliminating caffeine. If you feel and sleep better after two weeks of being caffeine-free, then avoid caffeine permanently. You can try adding back one or two cups after the two-week trial, but cut back if insomnia reappears.

Registered dietitian and nutritionist Keri Gans echoes Somer’s concern about caffeine, but would also caution against anything spicy close to bedtime. Those of us who like a nice plate of buffalo wings in the evening may be setting ourselves up for an uncomfortable snooze.

Keri GansCaffeine is a stimulant so definitely not something you want to have before attempting to get some Zs. If you eat too close to bedtime it can definitely interfere with sleep since your body is working hard to digest your food and not resting. Spicy foods also may interfere with sleep as well since for many it can cause gastric reflux.


Syncing Your Snacking For Sound Sleep

What you eat is obviously very important to a proper night’s sleep, but when you eat it can play an equally important role. Retelny likens sleep to an “overnight fast” and says that making sure you’re properly nourished is very important to the effect sleep will have on your body.

Sleep is greatly impacted by what you eat. The timing of meals, portion sizes, and the composition of the diet plays a role in getting a good night’s sleep. When fueling your brain and body for the overnight fast, you need a proper combination of the right types of carbs, protein and favorable fats in order to relax and rejuvenate your brain. Drinking too many liquids before bed, particularly caffeinated beverages, will stimulate your body and disturb sleep with the need for frequent urination and/or insomnia.

We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t eat a large meal right before bed, but that advice usually comes on the heels of weight loss and general health suggestions. Skipping the big meal right before bedtime is also important to ensure that you have a good night’s sleep. Registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Torey Jones Armul says that the commotion that accompanies digestion can upset your slumber.

Torey Jones ArmulEating a large meal shortly before bedtime can lead to acid reflux and indigestion. When we eat, our stomachs increase acid production for digestion. Lying down shortly after the meal can cause acid to re-enter the esophagus and cause painful acid reflux, or heartburn.

A big meal before bed isn’t a bright idea right before bed, but going to bed hungry isn’t advisable either. Somer says that getting the munchies while in dreamland could result in some midnight snacking, and that’s a habit that you should kick for your health.

These mid-night snack attacks may be triggered by hunger or they may just be habit. In either case, your best bet is to break the cycle. Often these night-time eaters have eaten too few calories during the day. Night eating is reduced by 50% or more in some people when they increase their daytime food intake. In addition, stop rewarding your stomach by feeding it every time it wakes you up. Instead, read a book, drink a glass of water, or ignore the craving. It takes up to two weeks to break a mid-night snack habit.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It, who tweets at @eatsmartbd agrees with Somer, and feels that striking a good balance and making good food choices are the best route a restful sleep.

Bonnie Taub-DixToo much or too little food before bed can lead to sleepless nights. The goal is not go to bed with a rumbling tummy — having the right bedtime snack, like a low sugar cold cereal, can help rock you to sleep while way too many cookies and coffee could keep you up for hours.

Taking the Belt In

As we’ve discussed before, losing some weight won’t only help fight snoring, but it can also help you get better sleep to begin with. It’s reciprocal as well, because good sleep in turn improves your general health. Taub-Dix says that the extra weight can even have a psychological effect.

If you’re overweight, it might make it harder to breathe. Excess weight puts pressure on your back, your knees, and your mind…psychological pressure can keep you tossing and turning too. Sleeping on your side vs. on you back could help curtail snoring, but if you need to lose weight, a leaner body might lead to a better sleep.

It seems these days everyone and their dog is trying to lose a few pounds, and despite the prevalence of fad diets, the tried and true silver bullet is still a combination of a good diet and exercise. Kristen Stevens, Chief Operating Officer at the Produce for Better Health Foundation says the fruit and veggies are the gold standard for general health.

Fruits and vegetables in all forms, fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice, are all healthy and excellent to consume when working to achieve an overall healthy diet and eating habits.

Gans agrees and says that your efforts can be redoubled with a bit of portion control.

Learn to build your meals with lots and lots of veggies. The most important thing to remember in regards to weight loss is portion control though.

Armul is a champion of proper diet as well, but she stresses the importance of exercise as a powerful strategy too.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in addition to whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, with limited portion sizes of sweets. More than individual foods or ingredients, an overall healthy diet with exercise is the key to weight loss.

Eat Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

Sometimes a nice slice of pizza, some buffalo wings, and a few beers seem irresistible, but if you’re facing sleeping and snoring issues, you may want to reconsider indulging. The benefits of being a good shepherd of your sleep can trickle down into almost all aspects of your life. With a little bit of planning- being conscious of what you’re eating, when you are eating it, and how your general health figures in, you may be able to get great (and silent) sleep the natural way. So give it a try!

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