Do your clients get enough sleep? Do they complain of fatigue and struggle with cravings? Well, they’re not alone! Up to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems.

We all know sleep is vital to health, but recent research has provided a better understanding of how sleepless nights can directly impact food choices and nutrition. According to a study published in May 2017, people who don’t get enough sleep eat, on average, 385 kcal more than usual with significantly less protein and more fat. These individuals also experienced a heightened motivation to seek food for reward (ie, that donut and sweet coffee drink in the morning look more tempting than normal, and one bite of a double cheeseburger with fries feels like they’ve won the lottery.).

Why, you ask? Well, there are multiple reasons, but one culprit is a change in appetite-regulating hormones. When people don’t get enough sleep, the hormone leptin, which signals feelings of fullness, decreases, and the hormone ghrelin, which signals feelings of hunger, increases—translation: overeating.

So you can see how easy it is for clients to get into a vicious cycle when it comes to not getting enough sleep and overeating. They’re tired from not sleeping; their appetite and cravings increase; they overeat and/or make poor food choices that are likely high in sugar and processed carbs that cause their insulin and glucose levels to spike and then crash, which leaves them more tired and fatigued. And the cycle keeps going and going.

Bottom Line: If clients don’t get adequate sleep for whatever reason (eg, insomnia, work, children, aging parents), they’ll likely be tempted to eat more and more unhealthful foods than normal. So, let’s break the cycle and use food as fuel to get your clients through even the worst sleep-deprived days. The following tips can help.

1. Eat a healthful breakfast within about an hour of waking.

  • Boosts mood, metabolism, and cognitive function.
  • Avoid blood sugar highs and lows by avoiding processed carbohydrates and added sugars. Instead, suggest clients opt for a balanced breakfast with nutrient-dense carbohydrates and adequate protein and healthful fats that will sustain energy and power them through the morning. Consume protein from eggs, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, lean meats, and healthful protein powders; healthful fats from avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and nut butters; and nutrient-dense carbohydrates from whole fruit, steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, and veggies.

2. Rehydrate.

  • Dehydration can cause fatigue, so encourage clients to drink more water to help them feel more alert and awake.
  • Recommend clients start their day with a glass of water and continue drinking throughout the day. Suggest they keep a water bottle with them at all times to help make this an easier habit.
  • Bonus: water = bathroom breaks = movement and ↓ chances of falling asleep at their desk.

3. Sip (or sniff) coffee, but not too much.

  • Caffeine temporarily interferes with the chemical signals of sleepiness. The attention-boosting and alertness effects may not kick in for 30 minutes so recommend clients time their cup of joe accordingly.
  • Not a coffee drinker? Can’t or don’t want to consume caffeine? Simply breathe in the scent of coffee or opt for decaf. Research suggests the aroma of coffee beans alone may alter the activity of genes in the brain and reduce the stress of sleep deprivation.
  • But warn clients not to drink too much or too late in the day. Since coffee is a stimulant, it provides false energy. So tell clients not to let coffee replace healthful meals or snacks, which can provide real, longer-lasting energy. To lessen its effect on sleep, avoid having caffeine from all sources after noon.

4. Eat a light lunch.

  • Avoid heavy, high-fat, rich meals at lunch and dinner.
  • Enjoy a lighter, more balanced lunch. Aim for 1/2 a plate of nonstarchy vegetables, 1/4 plate of protein, 1/4 plate (or less) of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, plus a little healthful fat. Chicken, beef, pork, fish, plain Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils are good protein choices. Consume nonstarchy vegetables such as greens, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, pepper, onions, carrots, and cauliflower; nutrient-dense carbohydrates from sweet potatoes, winter squash, quinoa, beans, lentils, wild rice, and whole fruit; and healthful fats from nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, and olives.

5. Have a strategic afternoon snack (if needed).

  • If clients start to feel more sluggish in the afternoon, recommend they reach for a strategic snack instead of sugar or caffeine.
  • Avoid sugary, high-carb snacks, as they will drain clients of their energy due to the spike and crash in blood sugar. Instead, suggest they choose a snack that combines a nutrient-dense carbohydrate with a lean protein or healthful fat. Nutrient-dense carbohydrates from whole fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread or crackers, air-popped popcorn are good choices. Protein and healthful fats from cheese, hummus, nut butters, plain Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, guacamole, and hard-boiled eggs also are good choices.

6. Prepare food in advance.

  • Suggest clients learn about batch cooking. They can read more about it here.
  • Preparing food in advance can help them feel more organized and ready to tackle the day as well as avoid those less healthful foods that are more tempting when they’re sleep deprived.
  • Recommend they prepare their food the night before or batch cook an entire week’s worth of food on Sunday or another day of the week.

For more sleep-inducing tips to share with clients, read 7 Nutrition Strategies for a Good Night’s Sleep.

— Ashley Bailey, MS, RDN, LDN, is a nutritionist at SAS Institute, Inc, where she provides a variety of nutrition services and programs to assist company employees and family members with their nutritional needs and concerns. She’s also a certified biofeedback instructor, holds a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management and contributes to the SAS Life blog.

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According to a study published in May 2017, people who don’t get enough sleep eat, on average, 385 MORE calories than usual with significantly less protein and more fat. They also experience a heightened motivation to seek food for reward (i.e. that donut and sweet coffee drink in the morning look more tempting than normal and one bite of a double cheeseburger with fries feels like you’ve won the lottery!).

Why you ask? Well, there’s multiple reasons but one culprit is a change in appetite regulating hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, there is a reduction in leptin which signals feelings of fullness and an increase in ghrelin which signals feelings of hunger….translation: overeating!

Sleep deprived? You’ll likely be tempted to eat more and more unhealthful foods than normal. #saslife

You can see how easy it is to get into a viscous cycle when it comes to eating and sleep. You’re tired from not sleeping and your appetite and cravings are increased because of the lack of sleep and hormonal shifts. You then overeat and/or make poor food choices which are likely high in sugar and processed carbs that cause your insulin and glucose levels to spike…and then crash…which leaves you more tired and fatigued. And the cycle keeps going and going…

BOTTOM LINE: If you don’t get adequate sleep (for whatever reason…insomnia, work, children, aging parents…life!) you will likely be tempted to eat more and more “junk” than normal.

So, let’s break the cycle and use food as fuel to get you through even the worst sleep deprived days! Here’s how to do it.

1. Eat a healthy breakfast within about an hour of waking

  • Boosts mood, metabolism and cognitive function (win, win, win!).
  • Avoid blood sugar highs and lows by avoiding processed carbohydrates and added sugars! Just say NO to donuts, pastries, most cereals, sweetened yogurts, etc.
  • Opt for a balanced breakfast with adequate protein and healthy fat that will sustain energy and power you through the morning.
    • Protein from eggs, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, lean meats, clean protein powders, etc
    • Healthy Fats from avocado, coconut or olive oil, nuts/seeds, nut butters, etc
    • Nutrient Dense Carbohydrates from whole fruit, steel cut oats, sweet potatoes, veggies, etc

2. Rehydrate

  • Dehydration can cause you to feel fatigued. Drinking more water should help you feel more alert and awake.
  • Start your day with a glass of water and continue drinking throughout the day. Keep a water bottle with you at all times to help make this an easier habit.
  • BONUS: water = bathroom breaks = movement and ↓ chances of falling asleep at your desk!

3. Sip (or sniff) coffee…but not too much

  • Caffeine temporarily interferes with the chemical signals of sleepiness. The attention-boosting and alertness effects may not kick in for 30 minutes so time your cup of joe accordingly!
  • Not a coffee drinker? Can’t or don’t want to consume caffeine? Simply breathe in the scent of coffee or opt for decaf. Research suggests the aroma of coffee beans alone can alter the activity of genes in the brain and reduce the stress of sleep deprivation.
  • BUT…don’t drink too much OR too late in the day OR with added sugar.
    • Since coffee is a stimulant, it can suppress appetite and provide “false” energy so don’t let it replace healthy meals or snacks, which can provide real, longer-lasting energy.
    • Avoid having caffeine from all sources after noon. Drinking caffeine too late in the day can inhibit sleep.
    • Try having your coffee black or with simply milk or cream. Caffeine plus sugar is not a good combination and will end up crashing your energy!

4. Eat a light lunch- cancel your reservations!

  • Avoid heavy, high fat, rich meals at lunch (and dinner for that matter- more below).
  • Enjoy a lighter, more balanced lunch. Aim for 1/2 a plate of non-starchy vegetables, 1/4 plate of protein, 1/4 plate (or less) of nutrient dense carbohydrates and a little healthy fat!
    • Protein from chicken, beef, pork, fish, plain Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, etc
    • Non-starchy vegetables from greens, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, pepper, onions, carrots, cauliflower, etc
    • Nutrient dense carbohydrates from sweet potatoes, winter squash, quinoa, beans, lentils, wild rice, whole fruit, etc
    • Healthy fats from nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil, olives, etc

5. Have a strategic afternoon snack (if needed)

  • If you start to feel {more} sluggish in the afternoon, reach for a strategic snack instead of sugar and/or caffeine.
  • Avoid sugary, high carb snacks, as they will end up draining you of energy and increasing cravings due to the spike and crash in blood sugar. Instead, choose a snack that combines a nutrient dense carbohydrate with a lean protein or healthy fat:
    • Nutrient dense carbohydrates from whole fruit, vegetables, whole grain bread or crackers, air-popped popcorn, etc
    • Lean protein/healthy fat from cheese, hummus, nut butter, plain Greek yogurt, nuts/seeds, guacamole, hard-boiled egg, etc

6. Prepare your food in advance

  • Make batch cooking your new best friend! Read more about BATCH COOKING BASICS.
  • Preparing food in advance helps you feel more organized and ready to tackle the day as well as avoid those less healthy foods that are more tempting when you’re sleep deprived.
  • Lay out food the night before OR batch cook your entire weeks’ worth of food on Sunday OR do something in between.

And finally, be mindful of what you eat for dinner. Don’t throw all your energy conversation measures out the window by eating a meal that is going to inhibit your sleep the next night. For more sleep-inducing tips, check out these 7 Nutrition Strategies for a Good Night’s Sleep and soothing night time tea recommendations…your pillow awaits!

Simply Sweet Potato Waffles
Makes 1 Serving
Recipe Adapted From: Fit Mitten Kitchen

Made with complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, this dish is sure to provide you with long-lasting energy to get you through the day without feeling sluggish. This is a great breakfast, brunch or lunch recipe. To save time in the morning, prepare the night before or make in batches and store in the freezer.

Ingredients

1 small sweet potato
1 egg
1 tsp oil
Seasonings of choice, to taste (cinnamon, paprika, cumin, garlic, etc)

Possible Toppings: plain cream cheese, smashed or sliced avocado, guacamole, fried or scrambled egg, sautéed greens

Directions

  1. Heat waffle iron and grease well with non-stick cooking spray or oil of choice.
  2. Wash sweet potato thoroughly and grate (yields about 1 heaping cup). I tend to remove the skins but you can leave them on if you like.
  3. Mix grated sweet potato, egg, oil and seasonings of choice in a medium-sized bowl.
  4. Place mixture into pre-heated waffle iron, covering all quadrants. Press waffle iron down gently.
  5. Cook 4-5 minutes or until golden brown (times will vary depending on waffle iron).
  6. Remove with butter knife or spatula.
  7. Top with plain cream cheese, avocado or guacamole or turn it into a breakfast sandwich by cutting into 4 quadrants with eggs and, if desired, sautéed greens inside!

What to Eat When You’re Exhausted (and Need to Wake Up Fast)

Nowadays, “always tired” has become both a personality trait and a fitting description in everyone’s Instagram bio. Between hectic schedules and related stress, non-stop electronic use, and disruptions like snoring, it’s no surprise few people are getting the seven to eight hours of slumber needed. Despite being told time and time again that sleep is essential to overall health—logging enough hours helps maintain weight and keeps you focused—35 percent of adults report getting an average of less than seven hours of sleep per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since about one-third of adults report insomnia symptoms, per the American Psychiatry Association, it’s clear that sleep can be a struggle.

But there’s one more bonus to getting enough shut-eye: It can help keep food cravings in check. When you’re not catching enough Zzzs, the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin go all out of whack. How? Leptin controls our perception of fullness, and it takes a nosedive when we’re sleep-deprived. Ghrelin, on the other hand, experiences a spike. And since ghrelin regulates our perception of hunger, that means you’re less in tune with feelings of fullness while your hunger cues are amped way up. Consider it the perfect recipe for caving to cravings.

Now, if you’re dragging after a late night or early wake-up, it’s totally normal to feel more hungry than usual or mysteriously drawn to the vending machine. But rather than white-knuckling it or giving in to those urges, follow this eating plan with healthy choices that perk you up, not make you crash. And to prevent your future self from passing out in your desk chair, start making a list of “Foods to Eat When Tired” and stash it in your drawer for easy access. (Wait, should you avoid eating before you hit the hay?)

Have small, frequent meals and snacks.

Eating every 3-4 hours can help you maintain stable energy. Aim for a combo of protein and complex carbs with some healthy fats to lend some staying power. This is not the day to embark on an ambitious low-carb plan. Your brain needs that glucose. Opt for these foods to eat when you’re tired.

  • Oats with ground flax, blueberries, and chopped nuts
  • A slice of whole grain toast with avocado and an egg
  • Veggie omelet and whole wheat toast or side of fruit
  • Salad with chicken, mixed veggies, and lentils, dressed with oil and vinegar
  • Baked fish with sauteed greens and roasted sweet potato

And a few healthy snack ideas:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit (News flash: You can make hard-boiled eggs in the oven.)
  • Sliced veggies and hummus or guacamole
  • A piece of fruit and a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter
  • 1/4 cup almonds or walnuts and fruit
  • 1 ounce of cheese and 1/2 cup of grapes
  • Plain Greek yogurt with cinnamon and berries

Step away from the cupcake.

Processed and sugary foods and drinks won’t do you any favors when it comes to improving energy. You might get a short-lived buzz from the sugar, but you’ll find yourself quickly crashing shortly after. Unfortunately, we’re hard-wired to crave concentrated energy sources (hello, sugar and fat), but seeking out balanced meals and snacks will get you a lot further and help you avoid the crazy rollercoaster ride. (Look to these low-sugar snacks for inspiration of foods to eat when tired.)

Go easy on caffeine.

Take it from someone who learned this one the hard way—caffeine jitters are no joke. A more moderate approach? Have a small cup (think 8 to 12 ounces) in the morning and then one more mid-morning or around lunchtime if you’re dragging. But cut yourself off after 2 pm. The last thing you want is to get yourself wired and make it hard to settle down for sleep that night. Instead, reach for milder alternatives that have a smaller caffeine boost, like black or green tea and matcha.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Tired cells are thirsty cells, so give them what they need to work with. Drink water like it’s your side-hustle, and add lemon or lime slices for refreshing flavor. You can also boost your intake by reaching for water-rich fruits and veggies, including watermelon, cucumber, celery, and lettuces.

Eat to Sleep Better in the New Year

Looking for a New Year’s resolution? How about improving your sleep through your diet? What you eat has more of an effect on how you snooze than you may think. Following these four simple food-related strategies can help you hit the sack better each night and feel more refreshed each morning.

Healthy eating leads to healthy sleeping.

A diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats could take a toll on your shuteye by decreasing the amount of deep, slow-wave sleep that you get during the night. Meanwhile, eating too much sugar could result in more midnight wake-ups. On the other hand, a healthy balanced diet that’s high in fiber and low in added sugars could help you to drift off faster, and log as many as two extra hours of sleep a week.

Diet-induced heartburn can keep you up at night.

Anyone who has suffered from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) knows just how miserable it can be to go to bed with heartburn. In fact, people with nighttime heartburn are more likely to have sleep problems and disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and daytime sleepiness. Luckily, the right diet can make a difference. Steer clear of large fried or high-fat meals, spicy foods, alcohol, and soda—especially close to bedtime. Your sleep—and your waistline—will thank you.

The best diet for sleep is also good for your total health.

For your best night’s sleep, strive to eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins, like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. B vitamins may help to regulate melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep cycles.

Losing weight can lead to better sleep

Eating well is the first step to losing weight. And that can pay dividends when it comes to your sleep. A reduction in body fat, especially around your midsection, makes you less likely to struggle with sleep problems like sleep apnea, restlessness, or insomnia, and less likely to fight sleepiness during the day.

Eat Well, Sleep Well: How Diet Affects Your Sleep

What Should Your Sleep Diet Look Like?

Broadly speaking, your sleep diet looks very much like a diet that you’ve been using to try to lose weight. A sleep-promoting diet is varied and rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy. A diet healthy for sleep also manages portion size, and limits amounts of high-sugar and heavily processed foods you take in each day. Nutrients found in a range of healthy foods provide particular benefits to sleep.

Are there Foods that Keep You Awake?

While many foods are healthful to sleep, other foods can actually undermine your nightly rest. Foods that can interfere with sleep include high-sugar, high-carbohydrate, heavily-processed foods. The same junk food that’s problematic for your waistline can also be troublesome to your sleep. Eating sugary foods throughout the day can cause pronounced changes to blood sugar, which can bring on feelings of fatigue that can alter your daily routine and your sleep patterns at night. Large meals high in carbohydrates can have a similar effect on blood sugar. Eating heavy meals close to bedtime interferes with the body’s process of winding down for sleep.

Should You Eat and Drink Before Bed?

That said, it’s not a good idea to go to bed hungry. An empty, rumbling stomach can be distracting, and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Still, it’s best to avoid large meals close to bedtime. Being too full at bedtime can also interfere with falling asleep, and sleep quality through the night can be disrupted as the body works to digest. If you must eat before bed, a light snack like yogurt, a banana, or a small bowl of low-sugar cereal is a smart choice.

You do want to drink as much water as you can. Staying hydrated throughout the day promotes alertness and focus, and can help minimize shifts in energy levels. Dehydration leads to feeling sluggish and tired, which can eventually disrupt sleep patterns.

The ultimate sleep better diet – and it’s 7 foods you probably love!

Some of us struggle to fall asleep. Some of us can’t stay asleep. And some of us are desperately seeking sleep but just can’t turn life off and get ourselves to bed at a reasonable hour.

But what if you could sleep better just by tweaking your diet?

Collectively, we average just 6 hours and 40 minutes of sleep each night. A century ago, we averaged 9 to 10 hours per night. As our snoozing dips, our waistlines stretch out. Coincidence? We think not. “Researchers say that how much you sleep and quite possibility the quality of your sleep may silently orchestrate a symphony of hormonal activity tied to your appetite,” according to WebMD.com.

Eat smarter, sleep better, get fitter – LIVE LONGER!

It’s no surprise that a good night’s sleep can fire you up for a more productive morning – one that might include a trip to the gym. And the opposite is true too. A poor night’s sleep leads to a sluggish morning – with no chance of a workout.

If you’re ready for your own personal sleep epiphany, we’ve got a list of foods that will help your body and mind unwind so you can get the sleep you need. Get ready for sweet dreams tonight and a healthier you tomorrow.

Cherries – Cherries boost melatonin naturally. If you’re not familiar with melatonin, it’s a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Sip a glass of cherry juice or scoop some into bowl to munch on before bed.

Dark chocolate – The cacao bean is a chalky, nasty-tasting disease-fighting bullet. The serotonin in it makes it an over-achieving sleep superstar. While milk, sugar and butter make it taste better, they also add a heap of calories and reduce effectiveness. Stick to chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao and you’ll reap the rewards without the extra calories.

Almonds – Studies show magnesium promotes deeper sleep and almonds provide a yummy way to get in that action. A handful before bed is all you’ll need.

Chamomile tea – A warm drink before bed is comforting and soothing but coffee, most tea and hot chocolate all contain caffeine. Chamomile lacks the caffeine and studies show it increases glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles. Now all you need is your favorite book and you’ll be ready for sleep in no time.

Bananas – If your mom fed you bananas before bed, she was onto something good. They contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which encourages relaxation.

Oily fish – Tuna and salmon give you a boost of vitamin B6, which helps your body manufacture melatonin. Roasted salmon or a tuna steak for dinner paves the path for sweet dreams later.

Kale – There’s a reason kale’s lauded as a super-food. It’s loaded with calcium, which helps the brain process tryptophan to manufacture melatonin and serotonin – and its low in calories.

Oily fish and kale for dinner, almonds and tea for a bedtime snack and you’re set for a healthy, well-rested YOU!

Not sleeping so well? Eating fiber might help

Sleeping pill? New research says that increasing your fiber intake can increase the quality of your shut-eye.

Ry Crist/CNET

It’s long been believed that certain foods correlate to a better night’s sleep, with many health publications offering suggestions for what to eat to increase your odds of sleeping well.

And while high-fiber foods routinely show up on those lists, a new study published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine zeroes in the specific impact of fiber on sleep, saying it leads to deeper, more restorative rest. The study also suggests more saturated fats and sugar consumed throughout the day have the opposite effect.

The study out of Columbia University associates a higher fiber intake with more time spent in a dreamless deep stage of sleep known as slow-wave sleep.

“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge said in a statement. St-Onge is assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Most surprising, she added, was that just one day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence slow-wave sleep.

It’s been known that a variety of fiber-rich foods can assist with sleep, but not necessarily for their fiber content alone. Tart cherries, for example, might have sleep-assisting melatonin in them. Whole grains like bulgur and barley contain magnesium, and without enough of that element, sleep troubles could arise. Fiber-rich chickpeas contain vitamin B6, a precursor to melatonin.

In this study though, the researchers looked at the impact of fiber regardless of the form in which it was ingested. They also looked at how sugary foods and those high in saturated fats messed with the sleep cycle.

Given their findings relating diet with sleep, it’s not surprising that the researchers discovered that subjects slept better when their meals were prepared by a nutritionist who took the sleep-food link into consideration. “It took participants an average of 29 minutes to fall asleep after consuming foods and beverages of their choice, but only 17 minutes to fall asleep after eating controlled meals,” says a report on the research.

In conducting their study, the researchers tracked the food intake and sleep patterns of 26 “normal weight” adults aged 20 to 45 years over the course of five nights in a sleep lab.

It’s a small sample, to be sure, and the researchers say future studies are needed to evaluate their findings. Nonetheless, given abundant research indicating that poor sleep can lead to everything from hypertension to cardiovascular disease, the results sure seem like another good reason to do what you’ve already been told to do. Fill your day with whole grains, fruits and vegetables and steer clear of too much sugar and saturated fats.

Now, go have a bowl of oatmeal and sleep tight.

So in general, for your tummy’s sake the ideal nighttime snack is one that’s smaller, milder, lower in fat and fiber, and eaten a couple hours before bed. Of course, if making these changes isn’t helping, see your doctor because there are other lifestyle modifications and medications available.

Eating before bed and sleep quality

If you regularly eat close to bedtime and have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, it’s definitely worth considering whether there’s a connection there.

The main concern actually goes right back to acid reflux and indigestion, which can make it hard to fall asleep, Dr. Gabbard points out, as can simply feeling too full. But GERD and indigestion can also make it harder to stay asleep, Rajkumar Dasgupta, M.D., a clinician and associate professor at Keck Medicine of USC’s division of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, tells SELF. Both issues can cause small arousals that you might not remember, but can prevent you from getting into deeper phases of sleep and leaving you under-rested and groggy in the morning, Dr. Dasgupta says.

At the same time, if you’re not having any issues with sleeping (or reflux or indigestion), there’s really no reason to change up your nighttime eating habits. In fact a solid bedtime routine can help signal to your body and mind—which have been going all day—that it’s time to slow down and rest now, Dr. Dasgupta says. And just as with drinking tea, taking a bath, or reading a book, enjoying a snack may help you unwind and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Plus lying there with a rumbling tummy can occupy your mind and make it hard for your body to relax, Dr. Dasgupta says. So if you need a bedtime snack to stave off late-night hunger, then go for it.

Also keep in mind that there are approximately 7,000 things that can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep besides nighttime eating—caffeine intake, exercise, sleep habits, anxiety, sleep disorders. So instead of jumping to any conclusions, Dr. Dasgupta recommends keeping a sleep journal tracking all of these things for a couple weeks to see if there’s any correlation. If you notice that you consistently get less sleep or feel less well-rested in the morning after eating right before bed, then try shrinking or skipping your bedtime snack and see what happens.

Eating before bed and weight

Many of us associate nighttime eating with weight gain. In fact you’ve probably seen weight-loss tips about not eating past a certain hour. Plus with the popularity of intermittent fasting (that involves only eating during a set window, like 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), you might wonder if there’s something to that.

Long story short? There could be a connection there, but we don’t actually know enough about it yet to say much of anything. There is some research indicating an association between nighttime eating, weight, and metabolic function, Kelly C. Allison, Ph.D., an associate professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, tells SELF.

A literature review published in Physiology & Behavior in 2018 coauthored by Allison concluded that while the body of research is flawed and incomplete, some findings from small studies suggest that the timing of eating impacts weight and metabolic function—specifically, with regular nighttime eating potentially contributing to metabolic dysfunction and daytime eating having either no or beneficial effects.

One theory is that shifting calorie consumption to later in the day could alter the body’s circadian rhythm, which helps regulate metabolism. “Our bodies are set up to be awake and eating and moving during the day, and sleeping and fasting overnight,” says Alison. But this is still just a theory. The authors acknowledge the need for much more research, including larger and better-controlled studies conducted on diverse populations over longer periods of time, before we can make any generalizations about a link. (Alison recently wrapped up a pilot study on the topic.)

How to Eat for Better Sleep

“Sleep and wakefulness are controlled by a series of chemical reactions in the body,” he says. “Certain nutrients can affect them to alter how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night, and how you feel the next day.” (Related: 3 Quick Bed Stretches to Help You Sleep Better)

This is far beyond drinking warm milk to drift off. Your day-to-day diet is what has the potential to improve your night’s sleep.

“When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, a hormone that tells you to eat more, and less leptin, which signals you to stop eating,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep.

The reverse is also true: Eating certain healthy foods calms your nervous system and triggers a sleep-inducing hormonal response, scientists say, helping you rest better at night.

Getting enough zzzs is particularly important for active women. “Sleep allows your body to recover from tough workouts and readies it for the next one,” says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. “During deep sleep, every muscle in your body works to rebuild itself stronger than before.”

The seven to eight hours of sleep a night that experts say women need may sound like a lot, but just wait: Active women, especially those training for an endurance event, need up to 10 hours for peak performance, says James B. Maas, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Cornell University and author of Power Sleep. “Well-rested people are typically 20 percent quicker at performing physical tasks than those who lack adequate rest,” he says. “Sleep plays a major role in muscle memory, which sharpens your focus and reduces reaction time.” (More about why sleep is the #1 important thing for a better bod.)

When researchers at Stanford University asked tennis players to sleep 10 hours a night for five to six weeks, the athletes reported sprinting faster and hitting better. Equally important, they felt that they recovered quicker for the next day’s practice than when they worked out with fewer hours’ rest.

How exactly does sleep help you get fitter? During rapid eye movement sleep (REM), neural connections created during your workout are strengthened, ingraining a new skill (like a tennis serve) into long-term memory, Maas says. In stage 2 of sleep, small bursts of brain activity promote muscle memory for step-by-step actions (like a kickboxing sequence). And slow-wave sleep helps the body produce hormones essential for muscle repair.

On the flip side, too little sleep can slow down your workout. “Studies show that poor sleep quality has the same negative effect on performance as not sleeping at all,” Maas says. “In both cases, the body’s ability to convert sugar into muscle fuel slows, so muscles don’t receive enough energy, causing you to ‘hit the wall’ during exercise 20 percent sooner.” (Related: Is it Better to Sleep In or Work Out?)

In other words, eat smarter, sleep better; sleep better, get fitter. It’s that simple. Start with the nutrition strategies below and our tips for the best foods for sleep deprivation to score sweeter, sounder dreams tonight and a stronger body tomorrow.

5 Ways to Eat Your Way to Better, Sounder Sleep

Eat Even More Fiber

People who fill up on this nutrient spend more time in deep sleep, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports. (People who get less fiber, more saturated fat, and more sugar wake up more often.) Although experts don’t have the full story on how fiber influences sleep, it may have to do with the way your body digests different types of carbs. Low-fiber carbs like rice and white bread are quickly broken down into sugar, and if you eat them at night, they may reduce the overall quality of your sleep, says Robert Graham, M.D., co-founder of Fresh Med, an integrative health and wellness center in New York.

“They dramatically spike blood sugar, which causes a surge in insulin and makes us feel drowsy at first, but once insulin levels go back to normal, you get a swell of energy,” he says. Fiber-rich carbs like whole grains are broken down slowly and don’t set off the energy roller coaster. You want at least 25 grams spread out during the day. (Here are more benefits that make fiber is the most important nutrient in your diet.)

Indulge Early

People who get less than seven hours of sleep a night tend to eat more fat overall, the journal Advances in Nutrition reports. “Long-term high fat intake can throw off your levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that affect appetite and also regulate wakefulness,” says Yingting Cao, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

To protect your sleep, avoid having a high-fat dinner. In Cao’s research, people who ate the most fat were more likely to have sleep troubles than those who ate less. Aim for around 10 grams in the evening, or about what’s in three ounces of salmon. And watch your intake of saturated fat, the kind that’s in meat. In the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study, participants who consumed larger amounts of saturated fat spent less time in restorative slow-wave sleep. It can trigger inflammation, which Cao says may affect your z’s. (See 12 healthy high-fat foods *everyone* should be eating.)

Breakfast? Nonnegotiable

Your gut has its own internal clock, and just like your brain’s, it can get jet-lagged. In a study in the journal Science, mice who went more than 16 hours before eating a meal shifted their circadian rhythms. “If the same rules apply to humans—which seems likely but needs to be confirmed—the body clock would be thrown off whenever there is a long period of fasting followed by a meal. The new waking time would be an hour or two before the mealtime the next day,” says Clifford Saper, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s lead author.

To keep your stomach and brain clocks in sync, eat meals (including the best foods for sleep deprivation below) at semi-regular times. “It’s especially important to eat breakfast to establish your biological morning and not to eat too late in the evening when the body is not ready to digest,” Dr. Saper says.

Cut Back on These 2 Things

Processed foods like deli meats contain a lot of sodium, which can interrupt sleep by raising your blood pressure and dehydrating you, Cornell’s Maas says. And surprise, surprise: Limiting caffeine is key. It stays in your system for up to 12 hours, so the effects of an afternoon latte could linger til midnight. Try skipping the joe tomorrow: Not having caffeine for a single day can improve sleep quality that night, research has found.

Don’t Go to Extremes

When daily calories dip below 1,200, you miss out on key nutrients, and this may affect your sleep, says Susan Moores, R.D., a dietitian in St. Paul. Low iron, for instance, may cause symptoms similar to restless leg syndrome. A deficiency in folic acid may lead to insomnia. Studies also suggest that anorexics on extremely low-cal diets limit the time their bodies spend in the slow-wave sleep cycle, necessary for muscle repair and recovery.

The Top 5 Vitamins and Minerals for Great Sleep

These vitamins and minerals will help you snooze soundly tonight. Eat ’em and sleep:

  • B Vitamins: They improve your body’s ability to regulate its use of sleep-inducing tryptophan and produce more system-calming serotonin.
    • Find Them In: Chicken breast, lean beef, salmon, bananas, potatoes, cereals fortified with B3 or B12
  • Calcium: This natural relaxant has a calming effect on the body’s nervous system.
    • Find It In: Low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, fortified orange juice
  • Zinc: Deficiency in this mineral has been linked to insomnia.
    • Find It In: Oysters, beef, Alaska king crab, fortified cereal
  • Iron: A lack of this mineral can cause symptoms similar to restless leg syndrome.
    • Find It In: Oysters, clams, beef tenderloin, dark-meat turkey
  • Copper: This substance regulates serotonin.
    • Find It In: Whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, dark leafy greens

6 of the Best Foods for Sleep Deprivation

  1. Tart cherry juice: It contains dietary melatonin, the sleep hormone. Sip eight ounces in the morning and at night. (This can also help speed up workout recovery!)
  2. Kiwifruit: Eating two an hour before bedtime has been shown to help you nod off faster and sleep deeper. It’s packed with the sleep-promoting nutrients serotonin and folate.
  3. Whole-grain crackers: The carbs they contain can help boost serotonin levels.
  4. Fatty fish: Salmon and other fatty fish are good sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the regulation of serotonin.
  5. Pumpkin seeds: A quarter cup of pepitas contains 200 mg of magnesium, a mineral that helps muscles relax the way some sleep meds do.
  6. Hummus: Chickpeas are naturally high in tryptophan, an amino acid that makes you feel sleepy. Try two tablespoons with your bedtime snack.

Tasty Bedtime Snacks Under 200 Calories

If you’re not getting enough calories, your body turns to fat for energy. “As part of that process, your system releases noradrenaline, a natural upper,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., a nutrition strategist and the author of MetaShred Diet. Feeling hungry is also uncomfortable, which can keep you up, says Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University. To avoid this, have a protein- and fiber-rich snack two to four hours before bed. Bonus: Eating protein before you sleep helps build your muscles too. (Here are the best drinks for a peaceful night’s rest.)

Choose one of these combos of best foods for sleep deprivation to help you drift off easier. The fifty-fifty mix of carbs and protein ups sleep-inducing serotonin levels.

  • 1/2 cup whole-grain cereal with 1/2 cup milk
  • 6 ounces low-fat yogurt and a sprinkling of berries
  • 1 slice whole-wheat toast and 1 tablespoon nut butter
  • 1/2 whole-wheat pita and 2 tablespoons hummus
  • 1 oatmeal raisin cookie and 8 ounces milk
  • 6 whole-grain crackers and a small handful of walnuts
  • By Amanda Jedeikin and Ana Mantica

Sleep Better by Changing Your Diet

Did you know that what you eat can affect how you sleep? Some sleep experts and studies have found that adding foods that aid rest and eliminating those that sabotage sleep can have significant impact on a person’s quality of rest, especially when combined with improved sleep habits. While not a miracle cure, good diet and overall good health will help a person sleep better and can be easier to achieve than you realized. Keep reading to see some of the top foods include as well as those to avoid when trying to get quality shut-eye.

Foods & Habits That Help You Sleep Better

Tryptophan and its effect on the production of serotonin help people sleep better. Food sources can be used to increase the levels of these natural sleep aids. The following lists may be helpful when trying to change your diet to help your quest for better rest.

Lighter Evening Meals

The old adage – Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper still holds true today, according to an article on . They suggest having a filling breakfast comprised of a variety of food groups including grains, protein and fruit; a moderate lunch smaller servings of grains and proteins; and a dinner at least two hours before bed. By eating a lighter meal at night, people who suffer from indigestion or gastro reflux will be less likely to have problems when trying to rest. The harder your body is working at digesting food, the less restful you are also likely to feel. Fitness Magazine also cites research showing that skipping midday meals and overcompensating with larger suppers can throw off sleep patterns and hormones.

Earlier Evening Meals

Eat your last meal of the day early in the evening, before 8 P.M. (or 3-4 hours before your bed time). According to an article in FitSugar, people who eat later are less likely to consume enough fruits and vegetables and also consume more calories than those who eat earlier, so eating earlier might help with weight loss goals as well.

Carbs for Dinner

While avoiding high-glycemic foods is a often a goal of dieters, some research presented in Fitness Magazine suggests that eating carbs can help boost production of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleepiness. The study cited showed improved sleep among people who consumed jasmine rice for dinner.

Don’t Starve Yourself

Very low calorie diets can make people hungry, irritable and deficient in many vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy, restorative sleep, like folic acid or iron. Fitness magazine suggests a well-rounded diet with vitamin-rich foods.

Small Nighttime Snacks

Do have a small snack an hour or so before going to bed, especially if you get hungry at night. Summarizing an article from Reader’s Digest, a combination of milk and honey or a banana may be helpful for promoting rest, as the carbohydrates in honey helps the tryptophan found in milk enter the brain. Foods highest in tryptophan include chicken, soybeans, turkey and tuna, though there are many other good sources. A light, low-sodium sandwich, protein and crackers, edamame and rice or other combinations could all be good options, but aim to keep it between 100-200 calories. Others recommend protein-based snacks like nuts, nut butters or fruit yogurt. Experiment and see what works for you, but remember to avoid food sensitivities like dairy if you suffer lactose intolerance.

Exercise

Do exercise early in the day, in natural sunlight if possible. Most people will raise their metabolism for several hours after strenuous exercise which can make it difficult to fall asleep. Exercising outdoors, running, jogging, walking will increase natural levels of melatonin, helping adjust the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Sleep Supplements

Valerian and melatonin are considered natural sleep aids according to an article in Today and in many other sources online. Both can be used for up to 30 days by most people if you have temporary trouble getting sleep. Both immediate and sustained release formulas are available depending upon whether you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Always remember to check with your doctor before beginning new supplements though, as they can have side effects.

Foods That May Steal Sleep

Things to exclude from your diet including anything that stimulates your nervous system or causes you discomfort. This might include the following:

Caffeine

Consuming caffeine arouses your system, which is the opposite of ideal conditions for sleep. Caffeine tolerances and sensitivity vary by person. For some people, consuming caffeine at any time of the day can disrupt sleep, while others may just need to avoid it close to bed time. Several studies have linked increased caffeine with increased rates of insomnia, so this can be something to be mindful of if you are having trouble getting to sleep. Watch for hidden sources including chocolate, cocoa, soda, weight loss pills, energy bards, and of course coffee and tea. If you must have that evening coffee or tea, switch to decaf.

Excess Fluids at Night

Avoid drinking many fluids before bed; rather, focus on drinking plenty of water during the day and cut back within 2 hours of bed time. Many people have difficulty falling back to sleep after waking up with a full bladder or getting up to use the restroom, which may disturb your partner as well.

Indigestion-Causing Foods

Reduce fat in the evening meal as it can cause digestion issues, particularly for people who suffer heartburn or gastric reflux. If you have foods that you know result in ingestion such as spicy peppers or dairy, don’t eat these for dinner. MSG, a flavoring used in some processed foods, can also be a sleep disruptor for some people.

Following a solid eating plan combined with exercise and good sleep hygiene can all help you sleep better, feel better and look better. Each person is different, so what works for most won’t necessarily work for everyone, but knowing the basics provides a good foundation for figuring out your ideal diet and routine. Don’t forget to pay attention to your sleep environment as well – keep lights to a minimum, use background noise if you live in a loud area, and make sure your mattress and linens are comfortable, clean, and healthy. If you have any tips for better sleep or other diet tips, feel free to share in the comments!

Diet for better sleep

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