01/11/2018

Could what you eat and drink be affecting how you sleep?

An adequate night’s sleep is linked to better overall health and wellbeing

Not getting enough sleep at night? Your diet may be to blame.

Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount. 

Andrea Manley, Registered Dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital

One solution for a better night’s sleep is through diet. Eating an adequate amount of calories throughout the day without over eating promotes healthier sleep patterns of seven to eight hours, says Andrea Manley, Registered Dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“Studies show adequate sleep is key to productivity, brain function in children, decision making in adults and for overall health of one’s human body,” Manley says. “There are multiple studies to support sleep is important for all of the above as well as mental health.”

According to a recent study at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, those who report between seven to eight hours of sleep each night are most likely to experience better overall health and wellbeing.  Beyond cognitive function, poor sleep is associated with a host of chronic health problems including depression, obesity and hypertension, the study states.

Researchers also noted that both the very short and longer sleepers consumed a less varied diet than those who were considered normal sleepers. The study found that very short sleepers consumed less water, carbohydrates and a compound found in red and orange foods compared to other sleepers. Meanwhile, long sleepers consumed less of a compound found in tea and chocolate, as well as the nutrient choline, found in eggs and some meats, than other kinds of sleepers, but more alcohol.

So what’s the rule regarding eating and bedtime?

There truly is no rule because everyone’s body burns calories differently, Manley says.

“It is calories in vs. calories expended when it comes to weight management and not the time of day that you eat the calories,” Manley says. “If a person has higher calorie/energy requirements, they may still be eating before they go to sleep.”

Manley points out, however, that many of us tend to overeat our calorie needs at night before bedtime because we are socially eating or drinking, craving something sweet after dinner or watching a movie and not paying attention to our popcorn consumption. If that’s the case, eating before bed tends to promote people to overeat further causing weight gain.

And while we do use energy to sleep and in fact burn calories – even more so than sitting on the couch watching television – the University of Pennsylvania study found that prolonged delayed eating can increase weight, insulin and cholesterol levels and negatively affect fat metabolism and hormonal markers implicated in heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.

Related article: Six foods to add, six foods to avoid in a heart-healthy diet

Manley recommends eating a varied diet throughout the entire day and to not avoid carbohydrates, but also not to eat excessive amounts of simple carbs such as sweets.

She also says that if you are hungry it will be difficult to fall asleep. Complex carbs, such as those in peas, beans, and whole grains, and protein sources, may give you a satiated feeling without too many calories further promoting restful sleep without weight gain. She also recommends avoiding too much insoluble fibers, such as broccoli and legumes, prior to bedtime because these may cause GI upset, gas or bloating, which may prevent restful sleep.

If you do want or crave a bedtime snack, Manley suggests a peanut butter sandwich with a glass of low-fat milk (or soy/almond/cashew milk), cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola or cereal (not the sugary kind) and milk.

What about caffeine?

We’ve all heard drinking caffeine before bedtime can keep us awake. However, caffeine affects people differently depending on how tolerant they are to different amounts of caffeine, Manley says. Some people may be able to drink caffeinated beverages all day without disrupting sleep while others may not even be able to drink any caffeine.

Regardless of how tolerant one is or is not to caffeine, the stimulant can promote increased urination, breaking your sleep pattern and causing poor sleep quality. Drinking too much of anything, especially before bedtime, can cause frequent urination and poor sleep.

“I personally would avoid sugary drinks which only provide excess calories which can cause weight gain,” Manley says.

Related article: What is caffeine’s effect on your heart?

Additionally, alcohol has been shown to promote sleepiness; however, the quality of sleep is poor once asleep, Manley adds.

What if I still wake up tired?

We all have mornings when we feel more tired than others. Having a balanced breakfast with protein and complex carbohydrates and low in fat can help jump start your day.

Manley suggests eggs or an omelet with veggies and a small amount of low-fat cheese. If you are watching your calories and/or heart health, use egg whites. Add whole wheat toast and an apple, or hash browns are fine when cooked in small amounts of olive oil, avoiding butter. Other suggestions are oatmeal with fruit or yogurt and peanut butter toast with a banana.  

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

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