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Your Questions — 7 minutes

What to eat in the evening to sleep well

Biron

Our diet has a major impact on our health, our bodies and our lives in general. However, too few people realize the effect that food has on their sleep.

If you suffer from a sleep disorder, it is possible that your late-evening supper or snacks are to blame.

Five healthy eating tips for better sleep
  1. Avoid stimulants in the afternoon.
  2. Eat a light supper.
  3. Choose the right carbohydrates.
  4. Optimize your digestion.
  5. Make wise choices for late-evening cravings.

Avoid stimulants in the afternoon

Although this article is mainly about your evening eating habits, we would still like to talk about stimulants consumed in the afternoon, as they have a major effect on your sleep. The time may vary from one person to the next, but as a general rule, you should avoid coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated soft drinks after 3 p.m.

If you consume caffeine, you are aware of its effects on your energy level and alertness. Caffeine blocks the action of a chemical in your brain called adenosine, which helps you feel drowsy and fall asleep. But these same effects become harmful when they prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Caffeine is found in many more products than you might think. For example, it may be in the over-the-counter drugs you use. Be sure to read the label! Canadian regulations require that the word “caffeine” appear when the substance is intentionally added. However, beware of products that contain natural ingredients that are themselves high in caffeine, such as guarana or yerba mate. The same is true for prescription drugs. For example, painkillers, stimulants and weight loss medications often contain caffeine.

Eat a light supper

Avoid heavy and high-fat meals. When your body digests a heavy meal, its temperature rises. However, to get a proper night’s sleep, your body needs a relatively low internal temperature.

Also avoid spicy foods. Although they are delicious, they are more likely to cause acid reflux, which can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Read more: Neat Little Guide: Digestive Disorders

Optimize your digestion

Your body needs a relatively low internal temperature to sleep well. However, when you digest food, your body temperature rises. To prevent your temperature from increasing too much at night, it is advisable that you finish supper at least two hours before bedtime.

If you have to go to bed less than two hours after supper, you can try lowering your temperature by taking a lukewarm shower before going to bed, for example.

Choose the right carbohydrates

You can include complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and fibre) with your supper to boost your level of serotonin, which promotes restful sleep.

Here are some examples of foods rich in complex carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains such as buckwheat, barley or oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Legumes

However, you should avoid processed carbohydrates (e.g. muffins, cookies, white bread, sweet cereals), which lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a sharp drop. When blood sugar levels drop, your body releases certain hormones (adrenaline, glucagon and cortisol) to normalize these levels. These hormones then cause reactions that can wake you up in the middle of the night.

Read more: Understanding the imbalance of hormones that regulate hunger

Make wise choices for late-evening cravings

If you get the munchies after supper, there is no need to go hungry until the next morning. Either way, hunger will keep you awake. Here is what you can eat just before bedtime, and still get a good night’s sleep.

Nuts, milk and bananas

Some studies indicate that foods rich in tryptophan have a beneficial effect on sleep. For example, as your final snack of the evening you could have a small serving of nuts (such as almonds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts), a glass of skimmed milk or a banana.

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is responsible for the secretion of two hormones essential for sleep:

  1. Serotonin, which calms you and promotes sleep
  2. Melatonin, which helps control the sleep/wake cycle

Beware of herbal teas

Although they are known for their soothing properties, herbal teas also have diuretic properties. An increase in urine production can wake you up in the middle of the night with a strong urge to urinate. Consequently, it is not advisable to drink herbal tea just before bedtime.

Cherries

Another hormone that helps fight insomnia while promoting sleep is melatonin, found in large quantities in sour cherries, such as Morello cherries.

Researchers have shown that drinking Morello cherry juice helps you stay asleep, sometimes even up to 90 minutes longer. As a result, a single glass of Morello cherry juice could keep you dreaming longer.

It is advisable to eat foods that contain melatonin, or promote its release, at the same time every night. This will help keep your circadian (internal) clock on track.

Conclusion

Sleep disorders have a major impact on all aspects of life, as their consequences can be felt both day and night. Paying attention to what you eat in the evening and adopting a sleep-friendly diet may be the solution that makes it easier for you to dream.

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  4. Grace Toby, « Sommeil et alimentation: quoi manger pour mieux dormir? », Sélection du Reader’s Digest, le 5 juillet 2019. https://www.selection.ca/sante/vivre-sainement/quinze-conseils-d-alimentation-pour-mieux-dormir/ (consulté le 22 février 2021).
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