When You Eat Affects Sleep

Today I was reading an article on how food affects our sleep. I find this topic interesting because so many of my patients have difficulty sleeping and sometimes inquire into ways nutrition can improve their sleep. The timing of when you eat can influence your ability to have a good night’s sleep. Difficulty sleeping is related to many factors including mental stresses like anxiety and depression, daily habits and behaviors, hormonal levels, medications and food choices.

For anyone struggling with sleeping problem or insomnia, it is important to speak to your physician to get help addressing medical causes or mental conditions that are causing the problem. Insomnia is defined as a disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep or both.

When you eat food can impact your ability to enjoy sleep appropriately. Ideally, I recommend people eat three to four hours before going to sleep to give the digestive system time to process and digest the meal.

When you eat hours, or less, before going to sleep, you activate your digestive system, stomach acid, pancreatic secretions, the muscles in the intestines to begin to processing the food, and this prevents the relaxation of the body for sleep.

From a nutrient perspective, food is fuel, so when we eat we need to consider when we need to release fuel into our systems. When we eat shortly before we go to sleep we are creating a situation where all the fuel and nutrients in food get released when we no longer need energy and food. It is always better to eat during the day when we need energy for our daily activities. Sleeping is the time we need the least amount of energy so eating and having our food release energy when we sleep is counterproductive to a good night’s sleep.

It is interesting to note that going to bed hungry also interferes with sleep because the brain will not have enough glucose going to the brain. So, the balance of using nutrition to help improve the quality of sleep is eating meals throughout the day and making sure to get your last meal 3-4 hours before sleep. This strategy, in combination with finding and treating the underlying cause of sleep difficulties, can create a good night sleep.

Sources: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=109 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/insomnia/DS00187