01 August 2018
By Nick Littlehales
What we eat has a knock-on effect on the way we sleep, but this does not necessarily mean we have to ban stimulants such as coffee and alcohol from our diets.
Caffeine is a performance-enhancer with a half-life of six to seven hours - if you have a cup in the morning and another after lunch it shouldn't keep you awake at night. In fact, a mid-afternoon coffee can be a good thing if the caffeine-induced slump that follows coincides with your bedtime. I also know of plenty of athletes who wouldn't think twice about having a glass of wine before bed. If it helps you relax, that can only be a good thing - in moderation, of course.
A balanced Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fresh vegetables will be better for you sleep-wise than eating lots of processed food and sugar, which are more difficult to digest and can give you a high. But there is no need to go overboard. If you drink too much water during the day you will be up in the night and the same goes for eating too much fruit.
It is worth considering that food allergies and intolerance can affect your sleep: you might not realise that certain foods give you rashes or makes you sweat. If you suspect this might be the case, consider having an allergy test.
As important as what you eat and drink, is when - and where - you do it. We need to refuel our bodies with something nutritious when we get up in the morning, preferably outside or somewhere sunny, so the daylight can do its bit to wake us up. Then we should eat smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day with the last about 90 minutes before bedtime.
Don't expect to fall asleep straight away after a big meal - you need to give your brain and body a chance to process food (and alcohol), but this doesn't have to stop you going out and having a nice time. Just wait 90 minutes, even if that takes you past your regular bedtime.
With regular exercise, your body will find it easier to process what you eat but don't start counting the calories too hard - you will wake up hungry and be more inclined to eat junk.
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