Food And Sleep: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Whether we hit the hay early or stay up late, once we’re in bed we’d like to go to sleep, right? But if you’re not someone who falls asleep easily and stays asleep all night, what you’re eating could be part of the problem.  Here are some ideas to try:

The good

Tryptophan-filled foods (milk or other dairy products, turkey, walnuts, chickpeas, shrimp, etc.)
With the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin and melatonin, these foods may make it easier to fall asleep faster. Pair with a simple carb (like a few crackers) or a spoon of honey to help the tryptophan enter the brain more easily.

Complex carbs (like whole-grain cereal, quinoa or buckwheat)
While carbs in general will help you sleep, avoid sugary simple carbs (like cookies) before bedtime.

Potassium-filled complex carbs (sweet potatoes, white potatoes with the skin, lima beans, papaya, banana) With muscle-relaxing potassium, these complex carbohydrates may help your sleep quality.

Leafy green vegetables (lettuce, kale, spinach, etc.)
What aren’t these good for? Leafy greens provide calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, which helps regulate your internal clock. And lettuce has lactucarium, which may have sedative properties.

Hot herbal tea
Whether it’s the ritual of drinking a nice hot cup of tea before bed, or that these teas actually help you sleep, try one of these before bed: chamomile, catnip, motherwort, passionfruit or valerian tea.

The bad

Dark chocolate
While dark chocolate’s antioxidant properties may be good for your health, if it’s eaten close to bedtime caffeine and other nutrients, such as the stimulant theobromine, can increase your heart rate and sleeplessness.

High-fat foods (think bacon cheeseburger)
Fat stimulates your stomach to produce more acid, which can cause heartburn. Plus fatty foods can loosen the sphincter (barrier) between the stomach and the esophagus, increasing the risk of acid reflux.

Spicy foods
Whether it’s hot sauce or a spicy curry, these can lead to heartburn, which may make you toss and turn at night. Save the Indian buffet for lunchtime.

The ugly

Alcohol (yes, even wine)
While that drink may make you feel sleepy, you’re more likely to be wakeful during the night. And alcohol may make any snoring worse – which is bad for your bed partner’s sleep quality!

Coffee (or other caffeinated beverages)
If you don’t know whether caffeine will disturb your sleep, avoid it late in the day.

Whether they’re sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened, many sodas contain caffeine. But even if it’s a caffeine-free soda, some of the chemicals can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and lead to acid reflux.

How GMC Can Help

The lack of restful sleep can affect your ability to concentrate and may keep you from being able to perform daily tasks. Gwinnett Medical Center’s Center for Sleep Disorders specializes in diagnostic and therapeutic studies. If you think you have a sleep disorder visit or call 678-312-4326 for more information about our services or to schedule an appointment.


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