The Foods And Drinks That May Be Impacting Your Sleep
If nightmares and dodgy dreams have been keeping you up through the night, your diet may be one of the many factors to blame…. Studies have shown that approximately 50% of adults have nightmares, so you aren’t alone! (1)
Nightmares may not only impact our thoughts and mood, but they may even impact our physical health! When we suffer from bad dreams, we are more likely to have broken sleep which can result in lowered energy, mood, immune system function and more…
Bad dreams may be a reflection of the stresses and anxieties of our day to day life, but food and diet also have an important role to play. Read on to discover the foods and drinks we may want to skimp on to achieve a peaceful night’s shut-eye.
Some cheeses contain small amounts of tryptophan, which is linked to our sleep-inducing hormone serotonin, but it has been reported that those who consume cheese before bed, are more likely to have unsavoury dreams. (2)
Strong or aged cheeses, in addition to preserved meats such as bacon, sausages and pepperoni, all contain naturally high levels of the amino acid, tyramine. Tyramine may make us feel extra alert and cause the adrenal glands to release our fight or flight hormones, which can boost alertness for the following hours.
Although the research is limited when it comes to cheese and nightmares, one study funded by the British Cheese Board (they have a vested interest in promoting cheese so may not be totally unbiased) found there was no evidence to support the link between dairy and nightmares….However, the researchers did suggest that cheese may have an influence on dreams in general and different types of cheese may result in different types of dreams. (3)
It has been known that the idea of bad dreams after eating cheese could be down to disturbed sleep. Also known as food distress hypothesis, it can take place when foods result in gut problems and gastrointestinal triggers. Cheese has been known as a top culprit for disturbing dreams, therefore this could simply be down to dairy being a common trigger for gut symptoms such as bloating and gas, which is impacting overall sleep.
Although cheese may be a number one comfort food, it may be best to avoid it before bed to get a better night’s sleep in terms of digestion.
Try Nush almond cheese spread instead to get a good night’s rest and your cheesy hit.
Spicy foods contain high levels of capsaicin, a chemical that interferes with the body’s thermoregulation process, elevating body temperature and potentially impacting your ability to catch your REM time of sleep. REM sleep is the rapid eye movement stage of sleep which is important for memory and learning and is also the stage you require for dreaming.
In addition, high levels of energy are needed to digest spices, which may negatively affect sleep and result in vivid dreams or nightmares. So… skimp on the extra hot vindaloo before bed and reach for milder spiced dishes.
Although reaching for a hot toddy or a glass of wine might be your go-to sleep inducer, it can often be doing more harm to your sleep quality than good. Alcohol can impact our ability to enter deep modes of restorative sleep as well as our ability to enter REM sleep.
Why does alcohol help us fall asleep then? Well, alcohol may initially result in you falling asleep faster, but then as your blood alcohol levels start to decline, this significantly disrupts your sleep in the later parts of the night. (4)
So where is the middle ground? Try to avoid alcohol in the 3-hours leading up to bed, and opt for lower-alcohol options such as wines or no/low alcohol options.
When highly sugary foods are eaten just before bed such as sweets, cake and ice cream, they can send our blood sugar levels sky high and then… crashing low. If this blood sugar crash happens as we sleep, it can stimulate an adrenal response, which increases cortisol levels. Increased cortisol can trigger us to be in a stressed state, but it also acts to wake us up!
A 2020 study linked poor sleep quality to a high intake of ultra-processed foods (which often contain lots of sugar) (5), and the study also suggested this may result in bizarre dreams!
Although that chocolate truffle or cookie dough ice cream pre-bed may be highly tempting, you’re better off trying out my healthy gingerbread cookie recipe or dreamy milk recipe as a regular sleep-friendly nightcap.
Other sleep-safe sweet treats could include the use of cinnamon- I love a cinnamon stick in a cup of warm plant-based milk such as almond or cashew to really combat sweet cravings pre-bed.
Another lovely pre-bed tonic is the combination of nutmeg, saffron and a few pre-soaked raisins brought to a boil, this creates a wonderful natural sweetness.
Chocolate not only contains caffeine (dark chocolate contains the most) which can increase arousal, prevent the body from shutting off and lower your chances of developing and sustaining deeper stages of sleep, it can also contain high amounts of sugar. This makes chocolate a no-go just before hitting the hay…
During the latter stages of sleep, caffeine consumption may cause rapid eye movement (REM) to occur more frequently, which can cause feelings of grogginess the next morning.
One study found that the more fat and saturated fat individuals consumed before bed, the lower the quality of sleep and sleep time those individuals had on average. (7) Therefore, it may be best to avoid chocolate in the evenings, thanks to its high-fat content.
Many think a glass of juice is better than a can of coke, but truth be told, if you are slurping down a glass of orange juice just before bed or with your dinner, it may contain just the same, or sometimes more, sugar than your can of coke! This high sugar load just before bed mayy have you bouncing off the walls and stop you from drifting into a peaceful slumber.
If you’re a fan of juice, aim to have it in the morning with blood sugar balancing breakfast rather than later in the day. Or consider some mtart cherry juice extract mixed into water a couple of hours before bed. Montmorency cherry and tart cherry varieties contain natural melatonin that may help to send you off to sleep! I like the Cherry Active Concentrate or Biona’s Cherry Juice.
HOW WE EAT IMPACTS OUR SLEEP
If you are having difficulty falling or staying asleep during the night, avoiding certain foods and drinks may help to prime your body and mind for a good night’s sleep. But how we eat is important too. Aim to finish eating 2-3 hours before bed to allow your body to fully digest your meal and utilise the energy from it. This allows your body time to digest your food, and to help avoid nightmares, indigestion, acid reflux and broken sleep. (8)
* Please check in with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or herbs especially if pregnant, breastfeeding or taking medication