How to eat for a better, sounder sleep every night

Not sleeping well? Tired of waking up in the middle of the night? Making small tweaks to your dinnertime routine can, according to the experts, make a huge difference. Here’s a couple of nutritionists want you to add to your pre-bed plate for a better kip.

Sleep is something that loads of us struggle to get enough of. Either we’re rolling into bed in the middle of the night after an evening of post-pandemic socialising (read: Netflix binging), or we wake up at 2am in a cold sweat thinking about all the emails we’ve ignored at work.

During the pandemic, the average Brit lost two hours of sleep a night – leaving 37% of people sleep deprived, according to recent research from fitness tech brand Zepp. While we can’t promise that splurging on sleep hypnosis or pure grade CBD will help, we do know that small lifestyle tweaks can go a long way to a blissful kip. The best place to start? Your diet. 

Studies, including a 2016 paper from Columbia University, have found that our dietary patterns and consumption of specific foods can have a significant impact on our sleep quality, with some foods having the potential to really disrupt our time snoozing.

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Certified health education specialist Brielle Merchant and Dr Aishah Iqbal both know just how important sleep is, and how much our eating habits can affect it. So we asked them for their expert insights into the link between diet and sleep, what you can eat to ensure you sleep well – and what foods are most likely to disrupt your rest. 

How important is diet to good sleeping habits?

Merchant explains that “eating well balanced meals supports your body’s pathways when regulating your hormones”, some of which “impact how much sleep you get and how well you sleep”. This means that eating foods containing nutrients that support sleep – and in the right amounts – is crucial to ensuring you are able to drift off when your head hits the pillow.

It works the other way too, with your sleep impacting your food choices. Both of these factors can influence your energy levels throughout the day. So, Merchant recommends “trying to keep a consistent sleeping and eating pattern, so that they are able to work together to supply your body with energy”. 

Sleep: the best and worst foods before bed.

When and how much should you eat in the evening?

Dr Iqbal explains that there’s “growing evidence to suggest that the time you eat can impact your circadian rhythm”, also known as your sleep-wake cycle. As a result, eating too close to when you go to bed can potentially impact your sleep routine, and so “it’s best to eat earlier in the evening, allowing yourself a couple of hours to digest your meal before going to sleep”.

However, there is no hard and fast rule for when you should be eating.  “It’s important to listen to your body and how you feel, so aim to feel satisfied when you eat in the evening, but not stuffed or hungry,” Merchant says. “It all depends on what works well for you”. 

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What are some of the worst foods to eat before you sleep?

Some ingredients may not always be a good idea to eat close to bedtime due to their energising nature. Both Merchant and Dr Iqbal particularly warn against the consumption of caffeine too late in the day, because, as Merchant explains, “it stimulates the brain and gives you energy, thus keeping you awake”.

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Foods high in sugar can also be stimulating for the body and mind. As Dr Iqbal explains, they “heighten arousal and give you a dopamine hit, which keeps you feeling alert”. 

According to Merchant, some foods cause disrupted sleep simply because they take longer for the body to digest. If you’re struggling with your sleep, try to stay away from heavy proteins in your evening meals, and minimise the high-fat foods which require longer to be broken down. 

Food to avoid

  • Coffee
  • Tea (especially those high in caffeine)
  • High protein foods (red meats, whey shakes)
  • High sugar snacks (sweets, fizzy drinks)

What foods will help you get a good night’s sleep?

Merchant explains that kiwis are excellent sleep aids: “In a study, participants who started consuming kiwis regularly before bed were able to fall asleep 42% faster than they did before.” Foods high in melatonin are great as well, because melatonin is the hormone that helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. Dr Iqbal recommends cherries and nuts such as walnuts and almonds as good sources of this crucial hormone. 

Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are a good option for your evening meal. They are a great source of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, “which help to regulate serotonin, the hormone that is responsible for maintaining sleep”, explains Merchant. Milk contains vitamin D, too, as well as tryptophan, “both of which have been linked to supporting sleep”. 

Other minerals, such as magnesium, have also been shown to support your sleep cycle and send you into a deep sleep. Foods such as spinach, nuts, salmon and banana are high in the mineral and great to be included throughout your day to maintain levels. 

Food to eat

  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cherries and tart cherry juice
  • Nuts (try to go for unsalted varieties)
  • Salmon, tuna and other oily fish
  • Milk
  • Spinach
  • Bananas

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Images: Getty

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