What you eat during the day may keep you awake all night. Watch out!

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Just like having a good diet and regular exercise, a sound sleep also has a significant role in keeping us healthy. With the coronavirus outbreak, many people have found it highly difficult to maintain a good, stable sleep routine. Stress, improper lifestyle and increased screen time are the most commonly considered reasons for it.

But many of us have missed out on another important factor that causes sleep deprivation, diet. Recent research suggests that the foods a person eats can affect how well they sleep and their sleep patterns can affect their dietary choices.

Over the years the studies related to sleep and diet have found that people who suffer from sleep deprivations tend to have poorer quality diets with low protein, fewer fruits and vegetables and a higher intake of added sugar from foods like sugary beverages, desserts and ultra-processed foods.

To further know the relationship between diet and sleep, researchers have been conducting some trials in which they plan the diet of the participants by including a huge variety of food and beverage and then observe the changes happening in their sleep.

One interesting fact about such studies is that sometimes they are funded by the food industry and it can draw out biased results. For example, research-backed by Zespri International, the world’s largest marketer of kiwi fruit, found that people assigned to eat two kiwis an hour before their bedtime every night for four weeks had improvements in their sleep onset. But the study lacked a control group, so it is possible that any benefits could have resulted from the placebo effect.

According to Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, it is always better to raise the overall quality of diet instead of focusing on one or two foods with supposedly sleep-inducing properties.

Sleep diet

What should a sleep diet look like?

A sleep diet is very much similar to the food pattern followed to lose weight. The sleep-boosting diet must be varied and rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, lean proteins and dairy and it also includes managing portion size and controlling the amount of high-sugar and heavily processed foods being consumed each day. 

Experts suggest Mediterranean diets (followed in France, Greece, Italy and Spain) as optimal for better sleep, as it includes foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, seafood, poultry, yogurt, herbs and spices and olive oil. Researchers have found that people who follow this type of dietary pattern are less likely to suffer from insomnia and short sleep, though more research is needed to confirm the correlation.

Food that keeps you awake

While some diet can help your sleep, some can interfere also. Foods that include high-sugar, high-carbohydrate and which are heavily-processed can trouble your sleep. Eating sugary foods throughout the day can cause visible changes in blood sugar level, which can bring on feelings of fatigue that can change the daily routine and sleep patterns at night.

Sleep diet

Eating large meals high in carbohydrates can have a similar effect on blood sugar, but the quality of carbs matters. Experts say that “complex carbohydrates provide a more stable blood sugar level, so if blood sugar levels are more stable at night, that could be the reason complex carbohydrates are associated with better sleep.”

Poor sleep and bad diet 

Researchers have found that when people lose sleep, they experience physiological changes that can force them to look for junk food. In a study, it was observed that healthy adults who are allowed to sleep only four or five hours a night end up consuming more calories and snacking more frequently throughout the day. The participants felt more hunger and their craving for sweet food also increased.

In men, sleep deprivation stimulates increased levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, while in women, restricting sleep leads to lower levels of Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone that signals satiety, which leads to reduced weight gains.

“The best way to approach health is to emphasize a healthy diet and healthy sleep. These are two very important health behaviors that can reinforce each other,” says Dr. Susan Redline, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.