Your daily hunger hankerings could be holding you back from a good night’s sleep. The food you choose and when you eat it plays a significant role in sleep patterns and, in turn, overall health.
Some obvious choices could be setting you back. An evening espresso or mowing down a pizza too close to bedtime will certainly influence sleep. But so will the things you eat earlier in the day.
A healthy diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to create the chemical environment required for good sleep. Serotonin, melatonin, magnesium, and more can all determine when you’re tired and how well you sleep.
Nutrient-rich food choices are the best way to set up this ideal internal environment.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined how food choices may affect sleep quality. Researchers observed sleep patterns in adults for five nights, controlling what they ate for four days. On the fifth, participants chose their own foods.
The results suggested that diets low in fiber and high in saturated fats and sugar were closely linked to lower quality sleep and more awakenings throughout the night.
But it’s not just what you eat; it’s also when. Eating big, especially late in the day, can throw off your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural internal clock) and have a significant impact on your sleep.
Think about it: at night, your body is winding down to prepare you for sleep naturally. If you eat a big meal or many calories, you’re firing up all of these systems. Your body will essentially be trying to operate in multiple time zones.
To complete the circle, poor sleep patterns are linked to bad eating habits.
So, how should you eat to optimize sleep? Here are a few considerations:
Focus on eating more nutrient-dense foods throughout the day—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unprocessed meat.
Limit intake of sugary snacks, drinks, and fatty processed foods.
Eat your biggest meal during breakfast and your smallest at dinner. Meals should get progressively smaller during the day.
Evening snacks should include berries, bananas, cherries, and other light, easily digestible foods that can promote better sleep.