Getting the right kind and right amount of sleep can be essential to both our day-to-day function and our longer-term health, but getting a good snooze in is rarely as simple as going to bed eight hours before you need to wake up.
In fact, the source of your sleeping issues could be in what you eat and when you decide to eat it. With the myriad number of modern fad diets you can follow, whether it’s cutting carbs or intermittent fasting, you could be knocking yourself off your sleep schedule.
If you toss and turn at night, struggle to nod off, or find yourself napping during the day, you may well have a disturbed sleep pattern. Though it can be difficult to identify what underlying issues are causing, nutrition expert and registered dietitian Reema Patel from Dietitian Fit & Co. has laid down for the Mirror how to eat your way to a better night’s sleep.
- You can’t just cut out all carbs
Plenty of modern diets involve either cutting back or cutting out carbohydrates, which is found mostly in bread, pasta, potato, beans and many other modern staples. However, cutting out these complex chains of energy from your diet can make it hard to nod off.
Nutritionist Patel explains: “This is because the main energy source for our body comes from carbohydrates.
“For a healthier diet, opt for whole grain carbohydrates such as brown pasta, quinoa, brown rice and wholemeal bread, as these contain more fibre and nutrients overall.
“This will help to keep the blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day and prevent crashes in energy levels. Other higher fibre foods include beans and pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.”
- Think carefully about how much coffee you drink
For some, getting out of bed and ready for the day would be an impossibility without caffeine, but becoming overly dependent can have a knock-on effect on your sleeping pattern and energy levels.
Nutritionist Patel explains: “Coffee itself does provide some great health benefits, but it can be dose-dependent.
“Generally, around 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for adults – this differs for certain populations, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women.
“400 milligrams is similar to 4 cups of coffee, however, this varies greatly on how it is made. Drinking too much coffee can lead to fatigue and issues with sleep, which then will negatively influence overall energy levels.”
- Skipping meals and intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, though monks and holy men of all stripes have sworn by it for millennia. It can be all too easy in the modern hustle and bustle of life to skip breakfast or lunch, but this could be the source of your nighttime troubles.
Nutritionist Patel explains: “If you find that you are often too busy to eat breakfast or lunch and often skip meals, you may find that your blood sugar can dip and that can lead to a slump in energy.
“To prevent this, ensure that you are eating when you feel hungry – even if it’s a snack if you haven’t got the time for a main meal.
“An ideal snack should have a mix of fibre and protein, so something like yoghurt and fruit, or veggie sticks and hummus, to help maintain blood sugar levels.”
- Eating too much at lunch?
If you have a busy day, or a short lunch, it can be easy to reach for fast food or carb-heavy supermarket meal deals. This can cause a post-lunch sugar crash.
Nutritionist Patel explains: “You may feel that mid-afternoon slump an hour or two after lunch, leaving you feeling sluggish and reaching for a pick me up.
“Our blood sugar can rise quite rapidly and then crash soon after if we are not eating a balanced meal. Instead, try to reduce the overall volume of your meal and opt for wholegrain carbohydrates instead of white, refined carbohydrates.
“Don’t forget a good portion of vegetables and protein too! When you are eating, eat slowly and mindfully with minimal distraction, to really be able to tell when you are starting to get full.
“Get comfortable with the idea of leaving food behind if you are feeling comfortable, before getting to the point of overeating and then feeling not so great!”
- Not drinking enough water
Water consumption is the holy grail of getting your body working right. It can seem like there is never enough time in the day to neck the eight glasses of water you are meant to drink each day – but it could be essential to balancing out some of the other issues causing you to lose sleep.
Nutritionist Patel explains: “We lose water throughout the day, so ensuring that we drink plenty to replace this is important.
“But it doesn’t just have to be water – sparkling/soda water also counts, as well as herbal/fruity teas, and decaf tea/coffee.”
If you are not drinking enough, you may experience some mild dehydration, which can cause headaches, brain fog and fatigue. So keep those water bottles topped up and within reach!”