What to eat for a good night’s sleep by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND

What to eat for a good night’s sleep

What to eat for a good night’s sleepIf a good night’s sleep doesn’t come easily to you, your diet might be partly to blame. 

Few things feel as good as waking up rested and energized after a good night’s sleep.  But for many people, a restful night’s sleep is hard to come by – and could be related to the food choices that are made during the day.  That’s because bad eating habits – not just what you eat, but also when – can have a big impact on the quality and length of your sleep.  And, the problem can sometimes turn into a vicious cycle, too. 

When you don’t sleep well at night, the foods you turn to the next day in order to keep you going could be the exact same foods that are sabotaging your good night’s rest.

Here’s what tends to happen.  When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it messes with your natural hunger hormones and you feel the urge to eat.  People who don’t sleep well tend to snack more – and they often turn to sweets and caffeine to get them through the day.  Problem is, caffeine can interfere with your ability to sleep at night, and although the sugary foods might boost your energy level for a little while, there’s a good chance your blood sugar will soon plummet, and you’ll just start the process all over again.

So, when it comes to a good night’s sleep, the best defense is a good nutritional offense.  When you eat right during the day, there’s a good chance you’ll sleep tight at night.

How to Eat for a Good Night’s Sleep

  • Keep dinner portions moderate.  Going to bed with a very full stomach can be uncomfortable and even lead to indigestion – a sleep buster, for sure.  On the other hand, if your dinner meal is too skimpy, you might be wakened by hunger pangs.
  • Don’t overdo the fats and proteins at dinner.  Fatty meals take a long time to digest, and protein foods stimulate the production of chemicals in your brain that help you feel more alert.  But low fat meals are digested more quickly, and healthy carbohydrates help stimulate the production of different brain chemicals – the ones that help you relax and get to sleep.  Rather than making protein the centerpiece of your evening meal, focus on healthy carbs – veggies, fruits, whole grains and beans – with a small serving of protein.
  • Omega-3s may help you sleep. Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fish, nuts and seeds – assist in regulating the body’s ‘internal clock’, in part through effects on the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle.
  • Watch your intake of caffeine and alcohol.  If you’re a regular caffeine drinker, you may be able to fall asleep just fine – even if you have a cup of coffee after dinner.  But caffeine – and alcohol, too – can disrupt normal sleep patterns… you may be able to fall asleep, but you don’t stay asleep.  And that makes it harder to reach the deepest (and most restful) stage of sleep.
  • Don’t overdo the fluids in the evening. If a full bladder is what’s interfering with a good night’s sleep, try to curb your fluid intake after dinner.  Aim to drink more of your liquids during the day, rather than trying to ‘catch up’ at night.
  • Snacking and sleep.  Whether a bedtime snack will help or hurt your sleep depends on your usual eating patterns.  If you eat an early dinner – and it’s relatively small and light – you may feel like you need a ‘little something’ before bed to help you sleep.   Foods that contain calcium, magnesium and potassium might be good choices, since these minerals support healthy nerve and muscle function and can help muscles relax.  Snacks to try: a small bowl of whole grain cereal with low fat milk and fruit or some yogurt topped with a sliced banana.

Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.


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