Sleep & Diet

What foods or drink should be taken to sleep better?
Eating well before bedtime – at least 4 hours before bedtime is more conducive to sleep. Late night eating just before going to sleep, especially if eating a heavy, spicy or oily meal, may lead to acid reflux symptoms (eg “heartburn”), which can affect sleep. Conversely, it is best to avoid going to bed hungry which also disturbs sleep. Warm milk may help sleep by warming up the body, and if it is perceived as a comforting food. Anything which soothes and relaxes one’s mind can be generally helpful in promoting sleep – including “comfort” food.

What foods should be avoided?
Stimulants like caffeine should be avoided in the late afternoon or at night for people who suffer insomnia. Alcohol, though often used incorrectly as a sleep aid, actually disrupts sleep and adversely impacts sleep quality when taken in excess. Late night eating within 4 hours of bedtime, can cause acid reflux from the stomach which disrupts sleep (by causing symptoms such as heartburn or cough at night). Heavy meals, spicy food and caffeine containing beverages should be avoided close to bedtime.

What are some of the foods one should eat at dinner or near bedtime to induce sleep?
Do such foods even exist? Conversely, other than caffeine-containing foods and drinks and alcohol, what foods should be avoided near bedtime?

Some foods which contain tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin (a neurotransmitter which is important for normal sleep), are often touted as being foods which help us sleep. Examples of food plentiful in tryptophan are milk, eggs, poultry and peanuts. Regardless of this theoretical basis for the touted benefit of such foods in promoting sleep, the real benefits are modest if at all. Doctors do not routinely recommend specific foods (except perhaps hot milk) to promote sleep, as this is not a particularly effective way to induce sleep. Conversely, certain food substances do actively interfere with sleep, such as caffeine and alcohol, and we routinely do discourage patients with sleep problems from drinking caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime. As a general rule, in order to prevent acid reflux (the backflow of stomach acid -which is secreted after we eat in order to digest the food which has been eaten – up the food passage causing “heartburn” symptoms), patients are also discouraged from eating heavy meals too close to bedtime as well (ie within 2-3 hours of sleeping).