How your diet affects your sleep

What you eat and drink during the day can impact your sleep quality. We look at the ways your diet either invites slumber or sabotages it.

We all know that our diet  impacts our lives in many ways but did you realise it might also affect your sleep? Here’s how:
 
The caffeine connection
 
For some of us, a morning coffee is a non-negotiable to get the day started. But if you’re still sipping on lattes into the afternoon or evening, you may need to reassess. 
 
“Caffeine is a stimulant drug which is strongest in the first hour after having it, but it can still be in your system up to eight hours later,” explains Bupa dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo. Everyone has a different tolerance to caffeine, and some of us can nod off, even after an evening coffee. 
 
“Even if you think you can have a coffee before bed and still fall asleep quite easily, it’s possible that caffeine is affecting your sleep patterns throughout the night,” cautions D’Angelo. If you’re not the best sleeper, try a lunchtime caffeine cut-off, and see if that makes a difference. Remember that tea, chocolate, cocoa and green tea contain caffeine too.
 
Eating a balanced diet
 
Eating regular, balanced meals is important to how you feel during the day and it can also affect how well you sleep. “Replacing sugary treats and opting for healthier snacks and balanced meals can promote more stable blood sugar levels, which will likely mean more stable energy levels throughout the day,” says D'Angelo. 
 
Feeling more energised means you’re more likely to exercise and handle stress better, which can flow on to better sleep quality. 
 
Interestingly, a varied diet (ideally including a range of wholefoods) seems to promote shut-eye. In a University of Pennsylvania study, scientists found that normal sleepers (those who get seven to eight hours’ sleep a night) reported the greatest dietary variety, compared to people who were short on sleep or slept too much.  
 
couple having a glass of red wine
Avoid over- or under-eating
 
Going to bed with a rumbling stomach can keep you awake but so can eating a really large meal or rich or spicy food too close to bedtime, as this can trigger stomach discomfort or reflux. 
 
“I’d encourage people to avoid eating until they’re feeling overly full right before bedtime; have your last meal a few hours before you go to bed,” advises D'Angelo. If you’re still peckish in the late evening, a light snack like some fruit and yoghurt or a few multigrain crackers is a good option.

Top up your tryptophan
 
Certain foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which is a precursor to the ‘sleepy hormone’ melatonin.  “Foods high in tryptophan include turkey, eggs, cheese, milk and yoghurt,” says D’Angelo. Including these foods at dinnertime won’t dramatically change your sleep patterns, but a glass of warm milk before bed certainly can’t hurt. Often something warm and comforting helps us wind down and de-stress- which may inadvertently have an effect on our sleep..
 
 What about alcohol?
 
A glass of wine with dinner may make you feel more relaxed, but that doesn’t translate to better shut-eye. “Alcohol actually reduces your sleep quality and lessens the amount of deeper restorative sleep you get,” says D’Angelo. She recommends a gap of three hours between your last drink and bedtime. Also, stick within the sensible drinking guidelines, which is no more than two standard drinks on any day.  
Back to top