We all have different ways to help us sleep, whether it’s regular exercise, reduced caffeine intake or meditation.
But did you know the food we eat can affect sleep, too?
“Sleep and food are interrelated -- what we eat makes us sleep better or worse and, vice versa, how we sleep can decide the way we eat and when we eat,” Central Queensland University Head of Paediatric Sleep Research Sarah Blunden told The Huffington Post Australia.
Although there are individual differences in the ways food affect a person, Blunden explained that aside from caffeine, sugary drinks and simple carbohydrates could be detrimental to sleep quality.
“Sugary drinks increase the amount of sugar in your system and therefore can make sleep different, in that when we sleep we will have to undergo a lot of glucose metabolism, which is supposed to be at rest when we’re sleeping,” Blunden said.
“And the more sugar we have the worse that might be.”
“If you’re going to eat simple carbohydrates -- such as white bread, flour and rice -- the simple carbohydrates will metabolise into sugar much more readily [while sleeping],” Blunden told HuffPost Australia.
The same goes for eating large meals right before bedtime.
“If you have a heavy meal before you go to bed, the two things that will affect sleep will be -- one, you’re digesting while you’re supposed to be sleeping -- and two, if it’s a simple carbohydrate your body is going to be working hard to metabolise that glucose,” Blunden said.
This means that it’s best to stop snacking late into the evening and to resist the urge to eat if you wake up hungry at 3am.
“When eating any time outside of our normal circadian rhythm, the metabolism of that food is very dysfunctional and [people are] much more likely to end up being obese," Blunden said.
Studies have linked nocturnal snacking with obesity, binge eating and psychological distress.
Now that we know to avoid high sugar and simple carbohydrate foods -- such as lollies, milk chocolate, chips and heavily processed cereals -- before bed, are there any foods that can help us sleep?
“The foods and drinks that will promote sleep contain proteins called tryptophans,” Blunden said. “So warm milk (grandma was right), turkey, fish oil and complex carbohydrates -- so your brown rice and multigrain breads,” Blunden explained.
“Most of the things we’re talking about here are sleep hygiene -- behaviours that we can choose to do or not, that promote (or do not promote) sleep."
So although it might feel like getting good quality sleep is out of our control, much of it can come down to eating well and avoiding late caffeine and sugar intake.