All of us have had days when a meal, especially a heavy one, made us really drowsy. It is no surprise then that quite often we find ourselves associating food with sleep. But, does food really have an impact on our sleep? If yes, do all foods have the same effect on sleep?
The first answer is quite obvious – yes, what we eat throughout the day influences our sleep. It can happen in many ways though – affecting the number of times we wake up during the night, do we go into a deep sleep at all, or just get stuck with REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
The second answer may come as a surprise to some. Different foods have different effects on us, rather on our sleep. Broadly, we can classify them into two categories – tranquilizers and stimulants.
Tranquilizers, or sleep-inducing foods are rich in the amino acid, tryptophan, which makes us feel drowsy. Some of the foods that help you sleep better or for a longer time are:
- High-carb foods – Since carbohydrates make tryptophan available to the brain, a carbohydrate rich meal is sure to make you feel sleepy.
Examples of foods rich in carbohydrates: Rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, porridge, etc.
- High-protein foods – We all know that proteins play a vital role in the growth of many animals, including humans. But, that’s not all they do. Proteins are also the building blocks for tryptophan thus, causing sleepiness.
Examples of foods rich in proteins: chicken and turkey, seafood, milk, eggs, etc.
Stimulants are those foods that enhance alertness and wakefulness. Clearly, these are the foods to be avoided if you want a deep, refreshing sleep.
- Caffeine – While caffeine boosts alertness, the effect lasts only for a short time eventually leading to a crash in attentiveness. The best way to put caffeine to good use is to have it in small quantities throughout the day.
However, in order to get some sleep, avoid any beverages that contain caffeine before going to bed. In fact, it’s best to have the last of it at least 4 hours before bedtime so it doesn’t interfere with the working of sleep-inducing hormones resulting in a disturbed sleeping cycle.
Tea, coffee, carbonated drinks and energy drinks are the most popular sources of caffeine.
- Alcohol – It’s a popular belief that alcohol aids sleep and many people form a habit of taking a drink or two before going to bed to fall asleep sooner. It might even do its job to that extent but at a high price for it significantly deteriorates the quality of your sleep. It could keep waking you up during the night or simply prevent you from entering deeper stages of sleep. Either way, you will not get the restful sleep your body needs, and you will wake up exhausted.
- High-fat foods – Although it is a good idea a have a small snack rather than trying to sleep on an empty stomach, it’s important that you steer clear of foods that have high fat content. It’s mainly because fats are difficult to digest and keep your digestion system working a long time. This may result in uneasiness after you go to bed or multiple trips to the washroom, both of which keep you awake.
So if sleep eludes you at night, you could try some snacks like Peanut butter sandwich, cheese and crackers or cereal with milk instead of a beer or a wine. These snacks are sure to lull you to a blissful and healthy sleep.