How Does Food and Drink Affect Sleep?

foods that help you sleep

The connection between what you eat and drink and how you sleep is complicated and interesting. Part of what makes it so complex is the fact that each person is unique. What keeps one person up late at night may help another person fall asleep.

Some people appear completely unaffected by the foods they eat and the things they drink. Others experience sleep disruptions very easily based on food or drink intake.

Some foods and drinks are said to serve as sleep aids either helping people fall asleep faster, promoting sounder sleep, or both.

Food and Drink that Promotes Sleep

Some foods and beverages may help you sleep better, and this may include inducing sleepiness or improving the overall quality of your sleep.

Here are some food and drink ideas if you are looking for improved sleep:

  • L-Tryptophan – Turkey has repeatedly made the news as a food that has the potential to induce sleepiness. The reason behind the turkey and sleep connection is an amino acid called L-tryptophan.

Some research suggests that increased consumption of L-tryptophan can increase a person’s sleepiness and the speed at which a person falls asleep. Foods besides poultry and turkey that are naturally high in L-tryptophan include spinach, soy protein, egg whites, sesame seeds, halibut, and milk.

  • Magnesium and Serotonin – Bananas, sesames and sunflower seeds are sometimes recommended as good for sleep since they have magnesium which is known to relax the muscles and aid the body’s ability to make serotonin.

Serotonin is neurotransmitter made from tryptophan and said to affect mood regulation, appetite and sleep. The pineal gland uses serotonin to make melatonin which is a hormone directly connected to healthy sleeping. Seafood is also thought to stimulate melatonin and serotonin production.

  • High Glycemic Index Foods – Researchers have found that people who eat dinners high in carbohydrates fall asleep more quickly if their meal includes foods high on the glycemic index like jasmine rice. This is thought to be because higher amounts of insulin following meals with high GI foods increased the amount of tryptophan in the blood which increases sleepiness.

Milk is a popular before bed beverage for many people. Drinking a glass of milk before bed may appeal in part due to nostalgia or family tradition. As noted by nutritional therapist Jo Lewin, it is also recommended as a sleep promoting remedy.

Some people like herbal teas to help them sleep. There are even special tea blends that are designed specifically to induce sleep. Some popular sleep herbs in sleep remedies include chamomile, mulberry, valerian, and jasmine.

According to a Swedish study, nearly nine out of ten people struggling with sleep problems benefited from valerian.

Food and Drinks that Might Hurt Your Sleep

Some food and drinks actually disrupt sleep, either making it difficult to fall asleep or hindering the overall sleep quality. Here are some things to consider if you are concerned about your sleep quality:

Caffeine: When it comes to sleep interruptions, caffeine is probably one of the biggest culprits.

Caffeine that is found in varying degrees in many different beverages and chocolate has a proven effect on sleep for many people. There is even a psychiatric disorder called Caffeine induced sleep disorder that happens when a person drinks too much caffeine before bedtime and experiences disrupted sleep because of it. Caffeine may delay sleep onset, reduce sleep time, alter sleep stages, and negatively impact the overall sleep quality.

Drinks and foods highest in caffeine include coffee, tea, chocolate, and upwards of 70% of soft drinks consumed in the U.S. Six ounces of brewed coffee contains an estimated 100 mg of caffeine compared to 40 mg in the same amount of brewed tea. Dark chocolate has more caffeine than milk chocolate with an estimated 10 mg in 1.5 ounces of milk chocolate compared to 30 mg in dark. Some medicines also contain caffeine like Midol, Exedrin, and NoDoz.

Alcohol: Alcohol affects people’s sleep in different ways. Some people may find that it is disruptive to sleep. If you already have sleep difficulties, alcohol may make them worse, as explained by Dr. Reena Mehra, a Cleveland-based sleep specialist.

Drinking alcohol before bed may make you wake up more in the night, either to use the restroom, or due to a possible increase in acid reflux.  In addition, for people vulnerable to certain sleep problems like sleepwalking or sleep apnea, alcohol can magnify the effect.

Alcohol may have different effects on sleep over the course of the night. Alcohol is said to reduce the amount of REM sleep in the first part of the night and cause more sleep disruptions in the second half of sleep.

Some research suggests that alcohol disturbs the sleep of healthy people but in small doses may actually help insomniacs fall asleep due to a sedative effect. Researchers have also found that alcohol may disrupt women’s sleep more quickly than men’s because women metabolize alcohol faster.

According to Chris Idzikowsiki, a sleep expert located in Scotland, “…Alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”

High Fat Foods – Some foods like high fat foods are linked to increased sleepiness. This may not be good if you choose these types of foods during the day.

Researchers at Penn State University led by Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, for example, found that high fat foods caused more daytime sleepiness. In contrast, foods higher in carbohydrates provided more energy and protein did not appear to have an effect on daytime fatigue.

Spicy foods – Spicy foods can sometimes cause sleep problems. As reported by NBC news, and explained by sleep expert Dr. Charles Bae, spicy foods may trigger more dreams which may not bode well for people prone to nightmares.

Spicy foods may contain capsaicin, an ingredient in peppers that increases body temperature and may disrupt sleep.

Australian researchers at the University of Tasmania led by Dr. Edwards and colleagues found that spicy meals hindered overall sleep quality and made it more difficult for people to fall asleep.

Sleep Deprivation Affects Food Choices

Along with the various effects of certain foods and drinks on sleep, it is also important to note that sleep deprivation may significantly alter a person’s food choices.

Researchers led by Dr. Laurent Brondel and colleagues found that even after one night of reduced sleep, people are more likely to eat more food. Researchers have identified a link between sleep deprivation and obesity.

Other researchers have also made the connection between sleep deprivation and food choices, suggesting that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to turn to junk food when they get hungry.

Sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects and according to the research it may also influence appetite and nutritional choices.

When it comes to food, drink and sleep, there is plenty to learn! Check out our sleep blog at Sleep Outfitters for more information about sleep and health!