Food and drinks, like light, are powerful in regulating circadian rhythm. As such, diet and beverage choices can significantly influence sleep quality. Knowing how these can affect our sleep allows us to make better choices in our diets to help us optimise our sleep.
Caffeine is one of the most accessible and consumed psychoactive stimulants. Bearing many positive properties, such as increased alertness and concentration, it also greatly impacts sleep. Caffeine has a half-life (the time it takes for half of a substance to be excreted out of the system) of 6-7 hours. What this means is that if you have a cup of coffee at 12 p.m., half of it will still be active at midnight. Furthermore, those who consume caffeine in the evening are shown to experience a 20% reduction in deep sleep - a sleep stage that is important for many physical, emotional, and cognitive functions. A deficit in deep sleep is normal with age; however it is easily preventable at younger ages by being mindful of sleep habits.
Alcohol is a sedative and is often believed to help you fall asleep. An important distinction, however, is that sedation is not the same thing as sleep. Sedation involves diminishing cortical activity but does not promote a true state of sleep. Alcohol further blocks REM sleep, which is an important sleep stage that plays a role in memory consolidation, emotional processing, brain development, and dreaming. As such, alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns while also disrupting nighttime melatonin production.
Late-night eating can lead to poor-quality sleep. Specifically, high-calorie meals filled with fats or carbohydrates less than an hour before going to bed can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep at night. This may also disturb the production of hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH) and melatonin, which are essential for the healthy functioning of our body. To improve your sleep quality, consider consuming a light, healthy snack before bed if you’re hungry, but avoid large meals that can cause discomfort and disrupt your sleep.
Finally, decreasing fluid intake in the late evening can reduce the likelihood of awakening during the night due to nocturia.
By being mindful of your eating and drinking habits, you can significantly improve your sleep quality and overall well-being.