Lettuce, kiwi fruit, cherry juice and bananas…these are all foods that have been included in research studies on the impact of diet on sleep (apart from lettuce; that was a new one on me and came from a participant at a sleep workshop I ran recently).
Nutrition and sleep is a highly complex area. Research is ongoing but scientists haven’t yet found the one magic food to solve your sleep problem! Rather, the message is that for good sleep we need to follow the mainstream recommendations for a healthy diet. Bananas, cherry juice, oily fish, kiwi fruit and malted milk drinks are important because they contribute to a balanced diet. However, in isolation they don’t provide a “cure”. Diet is just one aspect of your lifestyle that you can optimise for sleep. The better your diet the more likely you are to enjoy restful sleep.
On the flip side, there are certain foods/habits which interfere with sleep. Here are 5 of the most common to avoid:
1. High sugar foods, especially where the sugar is added rather than naturally occurring e.g. sweets, biscuits, chocolate, cake, some breakfast cereals. Foods like these cause a blood sugar high only to be followed a few hours later by a crash. You feel tired once more and reach for the biscuits again – and maybe also coffee, which brings its own problems when it comes to sleep.
I really notice it if I go out for lunch and (as usual) fail to resist a pudding. Not only do I feel stupidly tired all afternoon but then really hungry again in the evening!
And of course, daytime sleepiness makes it all the harder to go to your yoga class after work or otherwise make healthy choices.
2. Don’t skip meals. You might be someone who finds breakfast difficult to swallow but you need to ensure you get a balanced diet overall in the day. Skipping meals not only means you might be missing out on essential nutrients, it also means you are far more likely to grab unhealthy snacks then over-eat when you get home.
3. Don’t let alcohol take the edge off your appetite. After a long day at work, when you’ve skipped lunch or survived on snacks, it’s easy to turn to a glass of wine or beer to give you that much needed energy boost. True, the calories in alcohol will give you a sugar lift, just like a biscuit. But it will blunt your appetite. You’ll be less inclined to eat properly and more likely to collapse with tiredness as the alcohol kicks in. You might fall quickly into a heavy slumber after a drink or two but alcohol disrupts the “architecture” of sleep. You’ll wake up more often and miss out on quality zzzz’s.
4. Don’t go to bed on a heavy meal. If your work schedule means that you eat late in the evening, then avoid high fat and sugar meals. Whatever time you get in from work, your sleep will benefit from a wind down of at least an hour. Getting in at 10 pm, grabbing a sandwich and going straight to bed makes sleep a tall order. Instead, take your time. You may be in bed later, but you will have eaten well, be more relaxed and more likely to enjoy better quality sleep.
5. Don’t mistake tiredness for hunger. When you’re short on sleep your appetite increases. This is because the hormone that sends a signal to the brain that you are full decreases with short sleep while the hormone that signals hunger increases. This is why lack of sleep leads to weight gain. So if you have eaten sufficiently well yet still feel hungry, head for bed rather than the fridge!
It’s also worth checking if you are drinking enough water. Dehydration can make you feel tired.
You can’t eat yourself to sleep but you can adopt healthy habits that promote sleep as well as your general health.
And, if a lettuce snack last thing at night helps you to sleep well, go for it! Just don’t pin all your hopes on it. There are more effective, fully researched strategies!