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Sleep deprivation can be attributed to a host of causes, some of which can seem insurmountable. For many sufferers, constantly changing work patterns fall squarely into this camp. Evidence also suggests sleep loss can be the result of seemingly benign daily practices.
The foods we eat before bed can either have an advantageous or adverse impact on our ability to unwind.
The relationship between spicy food and poor sleep outcomes has been explored over the years.
Perhaps the most conclusive study to date was published in The International Journal of Psychophysiology.
Australian researchers recruited a group of young, healthy men and had them consume meals that contained Tabasco sauce and mustard shortly before they turned off the lights and alternated this practice with non-spiced control meals on other evenings.
The researchers observed marked changes in the subjects’ sleeping patterns on the nights that included spicy meals.
They spent less time in both the light phase of the sleep cycle known as stage 2 and the deep, slow-wave stages of three and four.
The net result of this pattern is that they experienced less sleep overall and took longer to drift off.
The researchers suggest factors that may account for this relationship.
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Spicy foods can trigger indigestion – pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen (dyspepsia) or burning pain behind the breastbone (heartburn) that can inhibit sleep.
The scientists also noted that after eating the spicy meals the subjects had elevated body temperatures during their first sleep cycles.
Increased body temperature has been linked to poorer sleep quality in previous studies.
Other foods to avoid
Spicy foods aren’t the only culprits – heavy or rich foods that are tricky to digest, fatty foods (such as meals that are fried), citrus fruits, carbonated and caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and mint can also trigger GERD, warns the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (oesophagus).
Although different foods trigger acid reflux in different people, there are steps you can take to minimise the chance that heartburn keeps you awake at night.
The NSF recommends the following:
- Keep a Diary. While it’s true that acid reflux can be inconsistent (a dish may leave you with heartburn one night but not even affect you the next time you eat it), keeping a log of what brought on the heartburn can help you identify patterns over the course of a few months. Once you link a particular food to the onset of acid reflux, do your best to keep it out of your diet.
- Move Dinnertime Up. Approximately 50 percent of people with heartburn suffer from nighttime reflux, and the later you eat, the higher the chance that your meal will interfere with your sleep. Give your stomach enough time to empty itself by eating dinner at least three hours prior to bedtime.
- Don’t Light Up. Smokers are more prone to GERD than nonsmokers, so putting down your cigarettes for good can help solve your acid reflux problem and lead to better slumber. If you need help quitting, talk to you doctor or call a help line.
- Slim Down. If the scale goes up, your risk of acid reflux does, too. That’s because being overweight puts pressure on the valve between your oesophagus and stomach, increasing the chance that acids will flow up.
- Grab an Extra Pillow. Thanks to gravity, elevating your head with two pillows is a natural way to help prevent the content of your stomach from rising back up. Or consider investing in a wedge-shaped pillow, which props up your head higher than a normal pillow and is designed to treat this exact problem.
- Start Chewing. Ending your dinner with a stick of gum may actually help decrease the chance of heartburn. Just be sure to choose a fruity flavour, as mint can make the problem worse.
General tips to remedy sleep loss
If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed.
The NHS explains: “This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.”
As the health body explains, most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night.
By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
If the problem persists, it is worth keeping a sleep diary to uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness, adds the NHS.
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