While I am a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, specializing in the sleep habits of babies and young children, I also want the parents I work with to get healthy sleep — a well-rested family is a happy family! So, from time to time I like to cover topics addressing self-care for parents, which is as important as healthy sleep for your children.
Did you know that what you eat can affect your sleep?
Identifying the culprit
If you’ve ever struggled with sleep for any period of time, you likely ran down a list of things that could be adversely affecting your sleep — stress, lack of exercise (or exercising too late in the evening), too few hours of sleep, the list goes on. You may have even gone so far as to make significant changes to your bedtime routine and environment — which is never a bad thing — such as eliminating screen time for at least an hour before bed, changing your bedroom lighting, adding blackout shades, and even purchasing new bed linens and pillows.
Sometimes adults continue to struggle to catch enough Zzzs, even after changing their routine and environment, leaving them scratching their heads. What they may have overlooked is what — and when — they’re eating throughout the day.
The food-sleep connection
Some things are no-brainers — having that cup of coffee, tea, or soda in the evening can obviously make it difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime because of the caffeine. I won’t judge, but if you like an evening bowl of ice cream, coffee or mocha flavor is probably not the best choice as you’ll sneakily be getting a dose of caffeine in your cold, sweet, and creamy nighttime treat.
Research shows that what we eat during the day affects the quality of our sleep. More specifically, “low fiber and high saturated fat and sugar intake is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more arousals.”
While what we eat is essential, when we eat affects how we sleep as well. There’s a reason why people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — it’s healthier to consume more of your calories earlier to fuel you throughout the day. If you’ve ever had a heavy meal late in the evening, you may have found yourself uncomfortable when lying in bed later — perhaps even having to take antacids to quell indigestion. But heavy meals even earlier in the day can still throw our bodies off.
Try to maintain a balance
Shifts in what and when we eat has an effect on the body’s circadian rhythm and significant changes in mealtimes or diet can shift the body’s natural sleep cycle. The connection between metabolism and circadian rhythm is complex, but can be summed up by saying that there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained the ensure our bodies are nourished and well-rested. Exercise is an additional and important component to this, as it helps maintain a balance between caloric intake and energy consumption within our body; when that balance is upset, such as consuming a diet high in fats, sugars, and calories, but not burning at an equal rate, our bodies begin changing at the cellular level, sending messages that, in turn, affect our circadian rhythm.
In a nutshell, eating a well-rounded, healthy diet and exercising regularly creates a balance that is conducive to healthy sleep patterns. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, and you’ve taken care of the environmental disruptions, take a look at your diet and exercise patterns — the key to a good night’s sleep may simply be what and when you’re eating.