How to eat well to sleep well
Updated: Mar 21, 2020
This sounds straightforward, right?. You need to eat well in order to sleep well and you need to sleep well to live well! With all the nutrition information out there, it’s easy to get confused about what you should and shouldn’t eat.
I’m talking all about diet and sleep today but I want to go beyond eating certain foods simply because they have vitamins and minerals that help with sleep. I want to discuss how you can time your meals and the macronutrients in those meals to help promote sleep, foods that can cause you to wake up in the night, and lastly why you need to find out what foods you’re sensitive to.
Breakfast of smart sleepers
Let's start with our meals of the day. The first meal is breakfast and it, along with being exposed to light, helps our body know that it’s morning time. So if you have been having sleep issues, I recommend eating breakfast soon after you wake up.
The current trend of intermittent fasting is great if you are super healthy and sleeping well. However, the stress of intermittent fasting is just going to add more stress if you aren’t sleeping well and if you have other health issues that are not being dealt with.
Your glucose levels are lower in the morning because you've been fasting all night. As a result, your body will often crave carbohydrates, like sugary sweet cereals, pastries or bagels. Instead of eating all carbs, it's best to have protein and some healthy fats with your breakfast. Good examples are bacon and eggs, toast with cheese or peanut butter, or leftover proteins from the night before. If you start off having only carbohydrates, you're going to spike your blood sugar levels and start your body on a blood sugar roller coaster for the day which will set you up for poor sleep that night.
Smart lunches to avoid the post-lunch crash
For lunch it’s ideal to completely avoid carbohydrates. Many cultures take a nap or a siesta after lunch because we have a natural dip in our circadian rhythm in the early afternoon. So it's normal to feel tired about 8 hours after you wake up. Eating carbohydrates will only spike your blood sugar and make that tired feeling even more pronounced. So eating a salad with a protein, meat and veggies, or a soup without a ton of carbohydrates will minimize that normal dip that happens every day.
Ideal dinner for great sleep
For dinner you should avoid eating a large meal too close to bedtime. Preferably at least 2 hours before. If you have a full meal your body will have a hard time sleeping because it's trying to digest the food while you’re trying to fall asleep.
Your meal should include some complex carbohydrates as well fat and protein. You want to have carbohydrates at night because you want your body to release insulin, which helps clear out the amino acids that compete with tryptophan. At night, you want tryptophan to convert to serotonin and melatonin so you can relax and go to sleep.
Think of the macronutrients in your meals as a sandwich: carbohydrates on both ends (breakfast and dinner) and no carbs in the middle (lunch) with protein and fat in all 3 layers.
Late Night Snacking
You also don’t want to go to bed hungry so it’s great to eat a small snack before bed if you do get hungry. Shoot for 100-200 calories with complex carbohydrates and protein and fat. Think an apple and peanut butter or crackers and cheese. The ideal snack will keep your blood sugar from falling too low at night and waking you up. You definitely want to avoid sugary sweet snacks (I know, I’m the ice cream police!), before bed which will spike your blood sugar.
Low Carb Diets and Sleep
People on a super low carb or ketogenic diet may not sleep as well because they aren't getting enough carbohydrates to promote serotonin and melatonin production. If you just started a low carb diet, the lack of sleep could also just be a transition as your body gets used to it. Studies have shown that people can sleep really well on low or no carb diets.
However, if it's affecting your sleep, add some carbohydrates back into your diet, especially at dinner time. I have also read about people on ketogenic diets eating a teaspoon of honey before bed to give their body some carbohydrates and even out their blood sugar without spiking it too much.
Blood Sugar-the sleep saboteur
Your body is on the blood sugar roller coaster when your blood sugar levels are constantly rising and falling throughout the day. When levels are too high, your body releases insulin to lower blood sugar. Conversely, when levels are too low, your body releases cortisol and then you crave something sweet, like pastries or fruit juice, and blood sugar levels rise again.
If that's happening all day, then it is also happening at night. When your blood sugar levels drop too low during the night your body feels stressed and then releases cortisol (your stress hormone) and wakes you right up. You feel wired because cortisol has been released. The feeling is simply due to your blood sugar levels dropping too low. That's why it's important to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day so they stay steady at night as well.
The key to maintaining steady levels is avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars in pasta, bread, pastries, candy, and sweets, etc. If you do decide to eat those, it’s important to make sure that you eat them with fat and protein to even out the blood sugar spike.
Lastly, I want to talk about the importance of figuring out what foods you’re sensitive to. If you are sensitive to rice and broccoli, two seemingly healthy and easy to digest foods, and you're constantly eating those foods because you think that they're good for you, your body will be in a constant low-grade state of inflammation. When your body is inflamed, it will release cortisol, your anti-inflammatory hormone, to deal with the inflammation. This is going to affect your sleep because your body is releasing cortisol during the night, when ideally you want zero cortisol.
How to eat well to sleep well: plan the macronutrients in your meals, keep your blood sugar levels steady and avoid foods you’re sensitive to.
If you have any questions about your diet and sleep, get in touch!