Children and adults alike sometimes need a little nutritional top-up before bedtime to get through the night without feeling hungry. But, the types of foods we stock up on before bed can have big impacts (both positive and negative) on the quality and length of our sleep. Here are my top three Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to the pre-bedtime snack:
Stock up on Tryptophan:
This amino acid is found in many types of foods. Research shows that foods containing tryptophan produce serotonin, which helps promote sleep. Serotonin is one of the hormones that influences our circadian rhythm and our overall sleep patterns. So, before you hit the hay, dig into foods like nuts, seeds, cheese, oats, and eggs, which contain a lot of tryptophan.
Add some whole grains to your bedtime snack:
Whole grain breads, crackers, and pastas, combined with a protein, like eggs or peanut butter, are a great combination for a healthy bedtime snack. Foods that contain carbohydrates, like rice and pasta, help the brain absorb the more tryptophan-rich foods, like eggs and dairy products. Protein also helps keep our bellies full so we don’t wake up hungry.
Load up on magnesium:
Consider pre-sleep foods that are high in magnesium, like dark leafy greens, avocado and bananas, which can be helpful for drifting off to dreamland. Studies have shown that magnesium has a positive effect on the quality of sleep, including the length of time individuals sleep.
Go heavy on the java:
This tip certainly isn’t news to most, but it is worth repeating. Keep your caffeine intake to 200 to 300 mg per day and avoid it altogether after 4pm. And don’t forget caffeine isn't only in coffee: It can also be found in chocolate, energy drinks, and soft drinks, too.
Load up on alcohol:
While it’s easy to think that a glass of red wine or an evening cider might make us fall asleep more easily, drinking before bed could actually be disturbing your healthy sleep. It’s best to avoid nightcaps, and keep your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day. Alcohol consumption close to bed has been shown to interrupt proper REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Dig into high-fat foods:
A late night burger run or ice-cream stop could lead to restlessness as you attempt to drift into slumber. High-fat foods like chips, ice cream, and fried foods like burgers and french fries, should really be avoided in the hours before bed. The reason? Fatty foods takes a lot longer to digest than others, and this will keep the body awake throughout the digestion process or, at minimum, will cause restless sleep while your body tries to do the work of digesting those fats.
Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company (thehappysleepcompany.ca). She works closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow her at www.facebook.com/thehappysleepcompany and on Twitter @TheHappySleepCo, and let’s get your family the healthy, happy sleep you deserve!