How much of a direct effect diet has on sleep is still unclear. It's safe to say, though, that a balanced, varied diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein sources can help your body function optimally and help ward off chronic conditions such as heart disease. Controlling portion sizes, so you're taking in only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, can help keep diseases such as diabetes at bay. And since chronic diseases and the drugs required for them can interfere with sleep, eating wisely can help you safeguard your health and your sleep.
Adjusting your eating routine may also help you get a better night's sleep. Most people in this country eat a light breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a large meal in the evening. Yet leaving the largest meal to the end of the day may not be the best choice, since it can result in uncomfortable distention and possibly heartburn when you retire for the night. You might want to try reversing that pattern for a more sleep-friendly meal plan:
- Eat a substantial breakfast. Because you are breaking your nighttime fast and consuming the nutrients you will need for energy throughout the morning, breakfast should be your largest meal of the day. Whole-grain breads and cereals, yogurt, and fruit are just a few examples of good breakfast choices.
- Opt for a moderate lunch. Choose brown rice, pasta, or whole-grain bread and a serving of protein -- fish, eggs, chicken, meat or beans.
- Finish with a light dinner. It is particularly important to eat lightly for your evening meal in order to prepare for a good night's sleep. Plan to finish your meal at least two hours before going to bed, preferably longer. If you need a little something to eat before you hit the sack, you'll find suggestions for late-night snacks at Techniques to Promote Sleep.
In addition, you may want to try these tips:
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine, especially in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why so many of us reach for that cup of coffee in the morning to get us going. And it's true that some individuals can drink caffeinated beverages all day long and still sleep soundly at night. But if you're having trouble sleeping, then limiting your caffeine intake should be one of the first steps you try to help improve your sleep. Be aware that coffee is not the only source of caffeine. Many sodas and teas, chocolate, and some medications, especially those for headaches, also contain caffeine. Check labels to help eliminate such sources of stimulation.
- Some people are sensitive to the flavor enhancer and preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG). In susceptible individuals, it can cause digestive upset, headaches and other reactions that can interfere with sleep. MSG is found in some processed foods and in some Asian foods. Try avoiding foods that contain MSG to see if it helps you sleep better.
- Drink the majority of your fluids for the day by the end of dinner. A full bladder may be cutting into your sleep time. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water is essential to healthy bodily functions. Shoot for eight glasses, or two quarts, per day. But be sure to drink the majority of your fluids before dinnertime so you won't be making numerous trips to the bathroom during your sleeping hours.
- Skip the alcohol. Despite making you feel drowsy, alcohol may actually be disturbing your sleep.
Your overall daily routine, not just your eating routine, also has an impact on sleep. Learn how on the next page.