The foods that are sabotaging your sleep
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7 foods that are sabotaging your sleep
Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx | October 18, 2019
Sleep deprivation is a common health problem in physician culture. In fact, at least 25% of cardiologists reported suffering insufficient sleep in a 2018 survey published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Like stress, dietary habits can adversely affect your sleep architecture and quality.
Sleep deprivation is a common health problem in physician culture. Like stress, dietary habits can adversely affect your sleep architecture and quality.
There are several foods and diets that may inhibit your sleep or disrupt your sleep patterns. Here are a few to consider:
Although not all carbs are high on the glycemic index, such as intact carbs (eg, whole grains), excess consumption can still interfere with your sleep. For instance, in a now classic study published in the Lancet, consumption of a high-carb, low-fat diet led to less slow-wave sleep—the deepest phase of NREM—compared with consumption of a low-carb, high-fat diet or normal balanced diet. Of note, all tested diets were equal in calories.
Refined carbs like white bread and white rice might be yummy, but they are high on the glycemic index. Diets high in high-glycemic foods not only increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, but can also disturb your sleep. Although some researchers have shown that eating a carb-based, high-glycemic meal 4 hours before bed can induce sleep, it’s important to note that doing so will not translate to better sleep quality. In fact, because refined carbs are generally very easily and quickly digested by the body, this can lead to surges in blood sugar and subsequent crashes, which can keep you up at night after a heavy meal.
Watch out for fried or other high-fat foods—they not only pack on the pounds, but can impair your sleep. And it’s not just that cheeseburger and fries you should be wary of. Even healthy high-fat foods, like avocado and fish, can compromise a good night’s sleep. One reason is that meals rich in high-fat foods activate digestion, which can lead to frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom.
In one review of the effects of diet on sleep quality, researchers noted the following: “[High-fat] intakes promote lower [sleep efficiency] and REM and higher [slow-wave sleep] and arousals. However, longer-term effects have not been examined in randomized controlled studies.
It should come as no surprise that caffeine upends sleep. Caffeinated beverages—including coffee, green tea, energy drinks, and soda—have been shown to increase heart rate and can cause feelings of nervousness and anxiety. But exactly how long before slumber should you forgo caffeine? According to the results of one study, moderate caffeine consumption (400 mg) within 6 hours of bedtime can significantly disrupt sleep.
The researchers noted the following:
“The results of this study suggest that 400 mg of caffeine taken 0, 3, or even 6 hours prior to bedtime significantly disrupts sleep. Even at 6 hours, caffeine reduced sleep by more than 1 hour. This degree of sleep loss, if experienced over multiple nights, may have detrimental effects on daytime function. Thus, the present results suggest the common practice of afternoon consumption of caffeine should at a minimum be restricted to before 17:00, particularly with regard to the moderate-large doses of caffeine commonly found in increasingly popular premium coffees and energy drinks.”
Studies of the effects of alcohol on sleep date back to 1939—a subject that has since been extensively covered in the literature. In those who only occasionally drink alcohol, both high and low intakes have been shown to improve sleep. However, higher intakes have also been proven to interfere with REM sleep. Furthermore, people who drink more alcohol can become tolerant to the beneficial sleep effects of alcohol, but may continue to suffer from REM disruption. Thus, alcohol makes for a bad bedfellow.
- See Also: 15 sleep myths debunked
Acidic foods can irritate the stomach lining and elevate acidic PH levels in the body—triggering indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux—which can interfere with sleep. Despite their high vitamin C, iron and lycopene profiles, tomatoes are surprisingly highly acidic. They also contain the amino acid tyramine, which triggers the brain to release norepinephrine, a stimulant known to increase brain activity and inhibit sleep.
So, to prevent sleep issues, it’s probably best to skip the late-night pizza or pasta.
Similar to acidic foods, eating spicy foods like hot sauces and peppers before bed can lead to a restless night. In addition to raising your core temperature—which can make it difficult to drift off—many spicy foods also tend to be acidic, which can lead to abdominal discomfort and heartburn.
In one low-powered study, the consumption of Tabasco sauce and mustard with an evening meal interfered with rest by altering slow wave and stage 2 sleep, as well as lengthening total time awake and sleep onset latency. The study authors suggested that an increase in total body temperature secondary to the foods could be playing a role in resultant insomnia.
We all love food and sleep—but they don’t always go hand in hand. Staying away from these seven foods before bed will go a long way in making sure you get a restful night’s sleep.
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