Getting good sleep is not just about how long you spend in bed. Sleep quality is just as important, or even more important. And the quality of your sleep depends on many factors, including your habits during the day, especially in the hours leading up to sleep.
Diet and Sleep Quality
What you eat and drink during the day can greatly impact how well you sleep at night. People with low-quality diets tend to experience low-quality sleep.
Specifically, high intakes of high-calorie and high-fat foods generally worsen sleep quality and quantity. Overeating high-calorie foods can also easily lead to being overweight or obese, which can also impact sleep quality and put you at risk for developing sleep apnea—a sleep disorder characterized by periods of interrupted breathing during sleep.
A bad diet can also lead to indigestion and heartburn, making it difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep.
On the other hand, high-carbohydrate foods and phytonutrient-rich foods (like fruits and vegetables) often improve sleep quality. This is likely because these foods interact with serotonin and melatonin activity (two important hormones involved in sleep regulation).
Drinking caffeine can overstimulate you and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Drinking any fluids in the last hour before bed can cause you to wake up to use the restroom, disrupting your sleep.
Meal Timing and Sleep Quality
Another way in which your eating habits can affect your sleep quality is the timing of your meals.
As your body digests food, it produces various hormones and other substances that can impact your sleep. Digestion can also impact your body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. You might not be aware of it, but all of these effects can interrupt your sleep and prevent you from getting a good night’s rest.
Meal timing also impacts your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
If you regularly eat late at night, your body may be confused about when it’s supposed to sleep and when it’s supposed to be awake. Instead of preparing for sleep, your body may feel energized and have a hard time winding down.
A study recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that people who engaged in late-night snacking in the final hour before sleep would often sleep for a slightly longer duration, but the quality of their sleep was significantly reduced due to increased nighttime awakenings.
Stop Your Late-Night Snacking Habit
If you tend to find yourself snacking late at night, there’s a good chance it affects your sleep quality, even if you don’t realize it.
Here are a few tips to help you reverse your late-night snacking habit:
- Eat more protein at dinner, as this can help you feel fuller and reduce the likelihood of late-night cravings.
- Find a relaxing hobby or activity to keep yourself occupied in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- Look for ways to reduce your stress levels and develop healthier coping strategies.
- Remove any snacks or drinks from your bedroom.
- Avoid purchasing and filling your pantry with unhealthy snacks.
If you can’t resist the urge to snack, stick to nutrient-dense, low-energy foods—a piece of fruit is a great option. Processed, high-calorie snacks (chips, cookies, pastries, etc.) are best avoided.