REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. mobile header image veggies

The Complete Guide to Sleep and Food

Before you head to sleep, make sure you’re eating whole grains, lean proteins, and good fats for dinner. Most Westerners find themselves so busy throughout the day that eating gets put to the side. By the time they reach dinner, they’re ravenous, and stuff themselves with a giant steak, a plate of pasta, or an entire buffet of tacos and burritos. Check the size of your dinner portions first as overeating, especially with high caloric foods, can disrupt a good night’s rest.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. header image

The Complete Guide to Sleep and Food

Before you head to sleep, make sure you’re eating whole grains, lean proteins, and good fats for dinner. Most Westerners find themselves so busy throughout the day that eating gets put to the side. By the time they reach dinner, they’re ravenous, and stuff themselves with a giant steak, a plate of pasta, or an entire buffet of tacos and burritos. Check the size of your dinner portions first as overeating, especially with high caloric foods, can disrupt a good night’s rest.

Which Foods are Best Before Bed?

When looking for specific foods to eat before falling asleep, it depends on your situation. If you have trouble with sleep onset, stick to high glycemic carbs or poultry. If you’re looking to maximize recovery overnight, you’ll want slower digesting foods such as casein protein or almonds for relaxation and restoration.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. woman eating breakfast in bed

"Health is a relationship between you and your body."

- TERRI GUILLEMETS

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. croissants

High-Glycemic Carbs

Research shows that carbs can increase tryptophan levels in the blood, which acts as a precursor to serotonin. In addition to making us feel happier, serotonin helps us relax and induces sleepiness. When 12 healthy men were given high and low glycemic carbohydrate meals (90% carbs) before bed, a significant reduction in sleep onset was observed in the high glycemic group. This result was consistent with meals both four and one hour before bedtime.

It should be noted that this result is only from twelve men, and they ate different kinds of rice instead of candy and desserts. Too high of glycemic index, such as in sugary drinks or candies, can actually lead to an energy spike before bed. That comes with a crash. While an energy crash sounds great for sleep, it actually triggers an emergency for your adrenaline. Not only does this make it hard to relax, but when your body doesn’t put blood sugar to immediate use, you’re at risk for developing insulin resistance.

Poultry

Commercial poultry such as turkey and hens require significant levels of dietary tryptophan. As such, human consumption of poultry transmits the same high level of tryptophan in to their diet. Tryptophan is important to sleep as an amino acid precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter for rest and relaxation. Eating poultry not only boosts serotonin release, but it also contributes to lean protein before bed, which we’ll go over in a bit.

Tart Cherries

Tart (specifically Montmorency) cherries are known to contain tons of phytochemicals, antioxidants, and - most notably - melatonin. The body uses natural melatonin production to regulate sleep/wake cycles. As the sun starts to set, release of melatonin begins to trigger sleep. When it’s time to wake up, melatonin levels clear so you can rise easily from bed.

Eating tart cherries elevates your natural levels of melatonin, helping cross a critical threshold in to sleep. Even better, drinking tart cherry juice decreases the time of digestion, which gets melatonin into your bloodstream quickly.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. tart cherries
REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. kiwi

Kiwi

A study out of the Asia Pacific Journal of Nutrition found that eating two kiwis an hour before bed caused participants to fall asleep 35% faster. The researchers attributed this result to the serotonin content of kiwi. Increases in serotonin near bedtime help sleep onset and REM sleep quality.

More research is needed to confirm kiwi as a magical sleep fruit, but consuming kiwi in general provides antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and natural sugars. Therefore, it’s a much better alternative to eating artificial sugars for sleep.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. kiwi juice

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

JIM ROHN

 

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. milk in bottles

Casein Protein

Sleep increases tissue repair, enhances your immune system, and improves your mood during the day. Consuming lean, casein protein before sleep enhances these effects by keeping your body fed overnight. The amino acids in protein add the building blocks for repair, helping you rebuild while sleeping. Casein protein releases slowly, trickling nutrients into your system evenly throughout the night. 15-30 grams of casein protein will keep your body fed as it stimulates the recovery process. You can get casein protein isolate through powders, make a shake pre-bed, or grab a glass of milk. Milk is the most natural source of casein that provides the same benefits.

Almonds and Bananas

Dietary magnesium deficiency is the second leading micronutrient deficiency in most countries, right behind vitamin D. One cup of almonds contains around 245 mg of magnesium, while a medium-sized banana has about 30 mg.

Dietary magnesium, while serving an important function as an electrolyte, has a very high correlation with improvement in sleep quality. If you’re having trouble sleeping, eating bananas and almonds before bed can reduce the stress of the day and lull you to sleep.

Top Choice Before Bed: Milk and Fibrous Cereal with Bananas

Milk contains tryptophan and natural casein protein. Cereal is a higher glycemic index carb, and bananas add magnesium. This classic is a great combination of sleep-enhancing qualities perfect for your pre-bed meal.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. cereal in a bowl

Which Foods Should be Avoided?

If certain foods act as a sleep aid, which ones are a detriment? Avoid the following foods that ruin your sleep anywhere near bedtime.

 

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. coffee in mug, coffee grinds in mug

Caffeine

When the Journal of Clinical Sleep examined the effects of caffeine ingestion, they discovered it has a significant negative effect on sleep quality. More specifically, 400mg of caffeine administered both immediately before bed, 3 hours, and 6 hours prior to sleeping all disturbed sleep both subjectively and objectively (according to a sleep monitor).

That means if you’re going to bed at 10 pm, stop caffeine consumption by 4 pm to avoid negative sleep consequences.

High Fat Foods

This generally refers to trans fats, fried foods, and dense meals full of saturated fat. Think burgers, pizza, fries, and ice cream. However, pigging out on bacon and eggs might not be the best option either, depending on how your stomach handles it. High fat foods take longer to digest and sit in your stomach for a while. This can disrupt sleep by causing bloating or stomach discomfort.

Alcohol

Yes, a glass or two of wine can help you fall asleep faster, but it’s still wise to forego the night cap. Alcohol competes with other compounds that clear histamine, an amino acid regulating your circadian rhythm. Having too much histamine in your system leads to increased wakefulness and less REM sleep. According to one study, drinking alcohol led to erratic sleep patterns and typically caused subjects to wake soon in to the night.

In short, alcohol may make you feel tired, but drinking it before bed will disrupt your total night’s sleep.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. cocktails on bar

Spicy or Unusual Foods

Are you lactose intolerant? Do you suffer from acid reflux? Maybe you just have a sensitive stomach. Avoid consuming any foods that you know upset your stomach near bedtime. You don’t want to be awake all night fighting bloating, gas, or diarrhea.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. two people on couch full

Too Much or Nothing at All

Overeating and not eating are both big issues when it comes to sleep quality. While not much research has been done on the direct physiological effects on sleep, both options can be mentally detrimental.

Eat too much, and you’ll run into the same issues as exotic foods - bloating, cramps, and general discomfort. Go to bed hungry, and you’ll be awake all night thinking about your next meal. Find a happy medium to keep your stomach satisfied overnight, and allow your body to relax in to sleep.

The Worst Choice Before Bed: Alcohol + Energy/A Heavy Plate of Spice

It’s a tie between a sugary, alcoholic energy drink OR a heavy meal of exotic, spicy, fatty foods paired with alcohol. Both options will clearly keep you awake (due to the drink selection), and the macronutrient content will disrupt your ability to rest comfortable.

How Long Before Bed Should We Stop Eating?

Finish your meals 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for ample digestion and limit hunger. However, simply having a snack right before bed doesn’t guarantee poor sleep. It just depends what type of snack.

For example, multiple studies champion pre-sleep ingestion of protein to augment overnight recovery. One study in particular even fed subjects protein periodically overnight via a feeding tube, which continued to promote recovery. There might be something to that glass of warm milk before bed after all.

Other studies have noted the negative adrenal response to blood sugar spikes and crashes. Fortunately, lean proteins and good fats tend to limit the blood sugar spike and allow your adrenal system to calm down and keep you asleep. Still, make sure you don’t have a sensitive stomach before reaching for a snack. For most, eating a meal 2-3 hours before sleep will suffice.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. man in bed eating chicken
REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. woman in bed eating breakfast

Which Foods are Best Before Bed?

When looking for specific foods to eat before falling asleep, it depends on your situation. If you have trouble with sleep onset, stick to high glycemic carbs or poultry. If you’re looking to maximize recovery overnight, you’ll want slower digesting foods such as casein protein or almonds for relaxation and restoration.

"Health is a relationship between you and your body."

- TERRI GUILLEMETS

High-Glycemic Carbs

Research shows that carbs can increase tryptophan levels in the blood, which acts as a precursor to serotonin. In addition to making us feel happier, serotonin helps us relax and induces sleepiness. When 12 healthy men were given high and low glycemic carbohydrate meals (90% carbs) before bed, a significant reduction in sleep onset was observed in the high glycemic group. This result was consistent with meals both four and one hour before bedtime.

It should be noted that this result is only from twelve men, and they ate different kinds of rice instead of candy and desserts. Too high of glycemic index, such as in sugary drinks or candies, can actually lead to an energy spike before bed. That comes with a crash. While an energy crash sounds great for sleep, it actually triggers an emergency for your adrenaline. Not only does this make it hard to relax, but when your body doesn’t put blood sugar to immediate use, you’re at risk for developing insulin resistance.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. chicken on a plate

Poultry

Commercial poultry such as turkey and hens require significant levels of dietary tryptophan. As such, human consumption of poultry transmits the same high level of tryptophan in to their diet. Tryptophan is important to sleep as an amino acid precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter for rest and relaxation. Eating poultry not only boosts serotonin release, but it also contributes to lean protein before bed, which we’ll go over in a bit.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. tart cherries

Tart Cherries

Tart (specifically Montmorency) cherries are known to contain tons of phytochemicals, antioxidants, and - most notably - melatonin. The body uses natural melatonin production to regulate sleep/wake cycles. As the sun starts to set, release of melatonin begins to trigger sleep. When it’s time to wake up, melatonin levels clear so you can rise easily from bed.

Eating tart cherries elevates your natural levels of melatonin, helping cross a critical threshold in to sleep. Even better, drinking tart cherry juice decreases the time of digestion, which gets melatonin into your bloodstream quickly.

REM-Fit complete guide to sleep and food. kiwi

Kiwi

A study out of the Asia Pacific Journal of Nutrition found that eating two kiwis an hour before bed caused participants to fall asleep 35% faster. The researchers attributed this result to the serotonin content of kiwi. Increases in serotonin near bedtime help sleep onset and REM sleep quality.

More research is needed to confirm kiwi as a magical sleep fruit, but consuming kiwi in general provides antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and natural sugars. Therefore, it’s a much better alternative to eating artificial sugars for sleep.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

JIM ROHN

Rest

The bottom line is - nothing is as restorative as a consistent night’s sleep. Getting the rest both your body and mind need, however, often proves trickier than we would like. More and more of us experience sleepless nights and fatigue during the day, and modern society could be to blame.

Casein Protein

Sleep increases tissue repair, enhances your immune system, and improves your mood during the day. Consuming lean, casein protein before sleep enhances these effects by keeping your body fed overnight. The amino acids in protein add the building blocks for repair, helping you rebuild while sleeping. Casein protein releases slowly, trickling nutrients into your system evenly throughout the night. 15-30 grams of casein protein will keep your body fed as it stimulates the recovery process. You can get casein protein isolate through powders, make a shake pre-bed, or grab a glass of milk. Milk is the most natural source of casein that provides the same benefits.

Almonds and Bananas

Dietary magnesium deficiency is the second leading micronutrient deficiency in most countries, right behind vitamin D. One cup of almonds contains around 245 mg of magnesium, while a medium-sized banana has about 30 mg.

Dietary magnesium, while serving an important function as an electrolyte, has a very high correlation with improvement in sleep quality. If you’re having trouble sleeping, eating bananas and almonds before bed can reduce the stress of the day and lull you to sleep.

Top Choice Before Bed: Milk and Fibrous Cereal with Bananas

Milk contains tryptophan and natural casein protein. Cereal is a higher glycemic index carb, and bananas add magnesium. This classic is a great combination of sleep-enhancing qualities perfect for your pre-bed meal.

Which Foods Should be Avoided?

If certain foods act as a sleep aid, which ones are a detriment? Avoid the following foods that ruin your sleep anywhere near bedtime.

 

Caffeine

When the Journal of Clinical Sleep examined the effects of caffeine ingestion, they discovered it has a significant negative effect on sleep quality. More specifically, 400mg of caffeine administered both immediately before bed, 3 hours, and 6 hours prior to sleeping all disturbed sleep both subjectively and objectively (according to a sleep monitor).

That means if you’re going to bed at 10 pm, stop caffeine consumption by 4 pm to avoid negative sleep consequences.

High Fat Foods

This generally refers to trans fats, fried foods, and dense meals full of saturated fat. Think burgers, pizza, fries, and ice cream. However, pigging out on bacon and eggs might not be the best option either, depending on how your stomach handles it. High fat foods take longer to digest and sit in your stomach for a while. This can disrupt sleep by causing bloating or stomach discomfort.

Alcohol

Yes, a glass or two of wine can help you fall asleep faster, but it’s still wise to forego the night cap. Alcohol competes with other compounds that clear histamine, an amino acid regulating your circadian rhythm. Having too much histamine in your system leads to increased wakefulness and less REM sleep. According to one study, drinking alcohol led to erratic sleep patterns and typically caused subjects to wake soon in to the night.

In short, alcohol may make you feel tired, but drinking it before bed will disrupt your total night’s sleep.

Spicy or Unusual Foods

Are you lactose intolerant? Do you suffer from acid reflux? Maybe you just have a sensitive stomach. Avoid consuming any foods that you know upset your stomach near bedtime. You don’t want to be awake all night fighting bloating, gas, or diarrhea.

Too Much or Nothing at All

Overeating and not eating are both big issues when it comes to sleep quality. While not much research has been done on the direct physiological effects on sleep, both options can be mentally detrimental.

Eat too much, and you’ll run into the same issues as exotic foods - bloating, cramps, and general discomfort. Go to bed hungry, and you’ll be awake all night thinking about your next meal. Find a happy medium to keep your stomach satisfied overnight, and allow your body to relax in to sleep.

The Worst Choice Before Bed: Alcohol + Energy/A Heavy Plate of Spice

It’s a tie between a sugary, alcoholic energy drink OR a heavy meal of exotic, spicy, fatty foods paired with alcohol. Both options will clearly keep you awake (due to the drink selection), and the macronutrient content will disrupt your ability to rest comfortable.

How Long Before Bed Should We Stop Eating?

Finish your meals 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for ample digestion and limit hunger. However, simply having a snack right before bed doesn’t guarantee poor sleep. It just depends what type of snack.

For example, multiple studies champion pre-sleep ingestion of protein to augment overnight recovery. One study in particular even fed subjects protein periodically overnight via a feeding tube, which continued to promote recovery. There might be something to that glass of warm milk before bed after all.

Other studies have noted the negative adrenal response to blood sugar spikes and crashes. Fortunately, lean proteins and good fats tend to limit the blood sugar spike and allow your adrenal system to calm down and keep you asleep. Still, make sure you don’t have a sensitive stomach before reaching for a snack. For most, eating a meal 2-3 hours before sleep will suffice.