How Diet Affects Sleep Quality

What you eat throughout the day can have an effect on how well your family sleeps. A comfortable mattress, healthy sleep environment, and perfect sleep hygiene could be no match for what you’re eating and drinking during the day.

In general, eating a healthy diet can help you sleep better. But there are some foods you should be especially careful with, and it’s a good idea to consider when and how you eat, and how that might be affecting how well you and your family can sleep at night.

Common Food and Sleep Issues

Food can contribute to sleep struggles in adults and children. Alcohol, caffeine, even a heavy meal can be a problem.

  • Alcohol: In adults, alcohol consumption in the evening can be a particular problem. If you’re falling asleep after a nightcap, you might consider it a sleep aid. But in reality, it’s not doing you any favours. Though alcohol might help you fall asleep easier, the quality of sleep experienced under the influence is diminished. You’ll experience lighter sleep, so you’re not getting the especially restorative deep sleep you need. And you are more susceptible to waking up in the night. So you might get a short, light sleep, then wake up and have trouble getting back down. While evening alcohol consumption certainly isn’t off limits, you should consider timing and your level of consumption before bed, and avoid going to sleep while intoxicated.

  • Caffeine: While many adults consume caffeine in the morning, doing so later than that can cause sleep issues. Caffeine has a half life of approximately five to six hours. That means it takes that long for the body to eliminate one half of the caffeine. So, if you’re consuming caffeine in the afternoon, you could still have a moderate amount of caffeine in your system by the time bedtime rolls around (and may feel too alert to get to sleep). In general, you’ll want to avoid coffee and other caffeine containing foods after about 3 p.m. And don’t think this is limited to adults. Kids can consume caffeine in ways you might not realize. For example, hot cocoa, chocolate candy, even cocoa cereals can have some level of caffeine. So lay off the hot chocolate treats before bed unless you want kids to be wired on their way down.

  • Junk foods: Similarly, sugary foods before bed might make kids (and adults) feel especially energetic and struggle with winding down for sleep. And overly fatty foods might disrupt your sleep and circadian rhythms. A diet high in saturated fat and low in fibre might trigger lighter sleep and more awakenings at night.

  • Spicy foods: There’s nothing wrong with eating spicy foods throughout the day, but consider nighttime consumption. If you struggle with acid reflux or heartburn, laying down might allow spicy foods to travel back upwards and trigger issues with those conditions. But even if you don’t typically have a bad reaction to spicy foods, just the capsaicin in spicy foods could increase your body temperature, which could cause issues for sleep, as your body needs to lower its temperature for good sleep.

  • Large meals: Going to bed on a full belly can be uncomfortable and might keep you or children up at night. Just the physical discomfort is enough to be an issue. But if you’re somehow able to fall asleep anyway, you’re still not in the clear. When you eat a large meal before bed, your body isn’t devoting its full attention to rest. Instead, it has to work on heavy digestion, too. That could cause lower quality sleep.

Diet can affect the sleep quality you and your family experience. Though most foods aren’t a problem during the day, you should take extra care to consider your consumption in the afternoon and throughout the evening. Focus on eating an overall healthy balanced diet, and specifically avoid or limit foods that could cause an issue in the evenings, such as coffee, alcohol, junk food, and large meals.


Author bio: Jackie Kepler is a sleep professional. She enjoys sleeping with cats, but sleeps on a king size bed because she needs her space, too.

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