Diet - what we eat, how much we eat and even when we eat - has a strong influence on how well we sleep. Most people are aware of the effect of coffee when we drink it near bedtime. Coffee contains caffeine, a strong stimulant that can keep us wide-eyed and wide-awake for hours.
But coffee isn't the only product that contains caffeine. So does chocolate, although in much smaller amounts. Chocolate also contains the alkaloid theobromine. Theobromine can cause sleeplessness, tremors, restlessness, anxiety, as well as contribute to increased production of urine. Additional side effects include loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Although humans can usually tolerate it, it's poisonous to animals. Combined with the caffeine, it's a double whammy for sleep.
Other products that contain caffeine are sodas, especially cola-type beverages, tea, and many mediations, both over-the-counter and prescription. Read the labels to ascertain the ingredients. If this is not printed on the label, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Another product to avoid at bedtime or close to it, is alcohol. Although a drink or two may relax you enough to fall asleep, it also produces several sleep-impairing effects. It can produce terrifying nightmares that startle you awake, or awaken you later in the night, unable to fall asleep again.
A heavy meal near bedtime may keep you awake, especially if it contains spicy or overly fatty foods. It's wise to eat the final meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime. Heavy meals can cause gas, gastrointestinal reflux (heartburn) or just plain discomfort. If possible, eat the heavy meal at lunch and have a lighter meal, early in the evening.
Foods that are high in carbohydrates or refined sugar should not be eaten as a bedtime snack. Like spicy foods and heavy meals, these can cause gas and heartburn. They also raise the level of your blood sugar, giving you a boost of energy. MSG (Monosodium glutamate) often found in Chinese food but also in salad dressings, soups and fast food restaurants.
Even the nicotine and other products present in cigarettes are stimulants, so avoid smoking near bedtime (or all the time!)
So, rules to follow to help you sleep better:
- Avoid caffeine in all forms.
- Don't use alcohol as a nightcap.
- Have your heavy meal earlier in the day.
- Avoid spicy or fatty foods.
- Don't eat foods containing MSG.
- Don't smoke.
In a future article, I'll be looking at foods to eat that promote sleep.
Published On: April 12, 2010