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Food & Sleep

You’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat” but did you know that “you sleep what you eat” too? It’s well known that caffeine can have a major impact on sleep patterns, but it’s far from being the only sleep thief lurking in the kitchen cupboards.  
 

In fact, if you’re experiencing disturbed or disrupted sleep during the night and you know to swerve that late cup of coffee, there are still lesser known, sleep stealing culprits on our plates that may affect our ability to get good shut eye.  

Sleep technology firm Simba has teamed up with The Sleep Charity’s Lisa Artis to lift the lid on the sleep robbing food and drinks to avoid before bed and how to eat yourself to sleep.  

 

Get more sleep to stop cravings for junk food and resist temptation 

It's not just the coffee that we reach for after a bad night’s sleep, it often influences our food choices too. Studies have shown that as we become sleep deprived, there are physiological changes in the body which encourage us to choose less healthful foods.  

 

This study looked at adults who are ‘short sleepers’ (less than 7 hours per night) and the relationship with sugar. Participants went through a programme to help them sleep for longer at night, which cut their voluntary sugar intake by about two and half teaspoons per day. 

 

How does sleep affect the digestive system? 

When we’re asleep, the body’s digestive system slows down, which means if we’re going to bed on a big meal, it’s likely to sit in our gut for longer. A lack of sleep can impact the digestive system, at the same time, a busy or stressed digestive system can also keep us awake.  

Particular food sensitivities or certain digestive conditions like indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease can wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep, with uncomfortable symptoms including; bloating, nausea, stomach pain, trapped wind, unusual bowel movements, and heartburn. However, even if you don’t suffer from these conditions or from food intolerances, we can all experience these symptoms on occasion.  

The digestive system releases hormones that determine appetite, and to let you know if you are hungry or full. When we are sleep deprived, we also tend to eat more during the day, often choosing foods that are higher in sugar or fat than we would typically.   

This study followed a cohort of participants who were restricted to four hours sleep a night for five days, and found they had greater activation in brain reward and food sensitive centres in response to unhealthy foods compared with healthy foods. The fix? This corrected itself with just five nights of regular sleep.  

The sleep robbing food and drinks to avoid before bed - including top TikTok trends  

Lisa Artis at The Sleep Charity says, “certain foods can tax the digestive system, leading to sleep disturbances. If your stomach often keeps you awake at night, limit eating the following foods or drinking too much water less than 3 hours before lights out.” Knowing what to look out for, especially in those tempting TikTok food trends that give everyone the munchies, can help ensure you get the best night’s sleep.  

 

1) A fiery curry can stop you falling asleep  

 

Our core body temperature drops naturally as part of the sleep process. Hot, spicy foods that are laden with chili or spice can fire up our internal furnace and stave off the cooling, sleep inducing temperature drop. Curries and spicy dishes can also increase the risk of indigestion and heartburn, especially when mixed with a common drinking companion, beer.  

 

2) Beware the bulk from refined carbs and fatty foods 

 

It’s last orders at the pub and you’re feeling peckish? With few places still offering food on the High Street, the choices will typically be limited to high carb, high fat options such as fish and chips, kebab, pizza or fried chicken. These can cause energy crashes and stimulate acid production in the stomach. 

Or, perhaps TikTok has tempted you to whip up a quick Smash Burger instead? These flat burgers are meant to be slathered in American cheese and wrapped in a brioche bun. Not only are these foods high in salt, they are high in fat and take longer to digest than their lighter counterparts, meaning they can leave our stomach feeling uncomfortably full during the night.  

Rice Bread is a top TikTok recipe that uses plain white rice instead of flour - useful for those on a gluten-free diet. Refined carbohydrates may trigger difficulties getting sleep by causing the blood sugar to spike, so save it for breakfast.  

 

3) Give beans a wide berth near bedtime  

 

Ask anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, and they’ll recognise this playground refrain; “beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot, the more you toot, the better you feel, so let’s have beans with every meal.” Protein rich and high in fibre, beans are a great source of nutrition. However, they also contain raffinose; oligosaccharides which digest into sugars, producing carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane - all the ingredients for some significant tummy turbulence. 

 

4) Veggies that go bloat in the night  

 

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are high in fibre, sulphur, and raffinose, which can cause bloating and gas. During the day, when you’re active, this is less of an issue because movement prevents build-up of gas in the intestines.  

While they are undeniably healthy and good for us, eaten too late, or too raw (such as kale salad or TikTok favourite, Korean cucumber salad) may be a tall order for your stomach to process closer to bedtime.  

Vegetable ‘steaks’ such as Lion’s Mane mushroom and cauliflower are a chef’s favourite on TikTok. Both are healthier and easier to digest than a chunk of red meat, however, cauliflower also contains fibre which can be difficult to digest and keep the gut working overtime, just when you want to switch off for the night. On the other hand, Lion’s Mane is a low FODMAP food, making it suitable for people with IBS.  

 

5) Avoid a salty hangover   

 

Ever had a rich evening meal in a fine restaurant, only to wake up later in the night gasping with thirst? Professional chefs use more salt than home cooks to maximise flavour. In addition, fast food outlets and processed foods also contain high amounts of sodium. So, whenever you’re eating out, be aware that you're probably consuming much more salt than you would at home. High salt intake causes an increase in blood pressure and water retention, which can lead to restless sleep, frequent awakenings and feeling tired and groggy the next morning.  

 

6) Watch out for sneaky sugar in cereals 

 

Cereals and cereal bars aren’t just for breakfast, but try not to get into the habit of eating them too close to lights out. Highly processed, they tend to contain a lot of sugar (and even hidden caffeine) which will cause your blood sugar to spike, fuelling a late night burst of activity and an inevitable crash. Have a bowl of oats or bircher muesli with some berries on top for sweetness instead.  

 

7) Don’t drink more water than you oughta  

 

Drinking enough water is important to prevent night wakings due to dehydration, however, guzzling large volumes of any liquid just before bed can be equally disruptive, resulting in multiple bladder breaks during the night. Waking up more than once in the night in order to pee is known as nocturia, or nocturnal urinary frequency. Under the age of 50 it is more common in women, over the age of 50 it is more common in men.  It’s better to pace your hydration throughout the day than consume too much at the end.  

 

How to eat yourself to sleep 

Artis continues “you don’t have to give up some of your favourite foods, snacks or treats to get better sleep, but you do need to be mindful of when to eat them, especially if you want to increase your chances of feeling well rested in the morning.”  

 

1) Go Mediterranean  

 

A diet that is high in sugar, saturated fat and processed or simple carbohydrates has been shown to disrupt sleep. Eating more plants, fibre, and unsaturated fat such as nuts, olive oil, fish and avocados can promote better sleep. The Mediterranean diet which is high in vegetables, legumes, grains, fruit, nuts, fish, poultry and olive oil is great for sleep.  

For longer and better quality sleep, it’s important to incorporate the following into your diet; lycopene (found in red and orange-coloured foods), carbohydrates, vitamin C, selenium (found in nuts, meat and shellfish), and more lutein/zeaxanthin (found in green, leafy vegetables that are rich in stress reducing calcium). 

 

2) Cool off from a spicy meal  

 

It can be hard to resist curry night, so if you do find yourself feasting in the evening, why not switch from madras to masala! You can even consider using intelligent bedding that can help cool you down. Simba’s unique Stratos® cool-touch technology draws heat away from the body to prevent overheating and to encourage the drop in core body temperature that enables sleep.  

The Simba 3-in-1 duvet can be split into a lighter 3.5 tog layer and benefits from cooling Stratos® technology that dissipates body heat. Or, wrap yourself around a Cooling Body Pillow, a cutting-edge cushioning accessory meticulously crafted specifically for side sleepers with Stratos® - to offer relief for those who often overheat as they sleep.  

  

3) Late night movie? Don’t let snacking keep you up  

 

A cinema trip usually means a bucket of very salty or very sweet popcorn, nachos slathered in cheese, or an oversized bag of sweets or chews, washed down with a large fizzy drink. In moderation, these foods are fine, however, when consumed late at night, they’ll likely keep you awake for longer. Whether you are heading out to the cinema, or having a movie night at home, bring your own healthy snacks or plain popcorn to reduce your sugar and salt intake.  

 

4) Encourage a healthy meal schedule  

 

Late nights can impact your digestive system. Going to bed hungry or eating too much can both impact the on-set of sleep. As much as possible, make sure you eat your final meal of the day at least 3 hours before hitting the sack.  

 

5) Make sure you are comfortable  

 

Choose a cloud-like, cooling mattress which offers the best support for the whole body. With a No Roll Off SupportCore™ Base offering edge-to-edge support, 13 zoned Aerocoil® spring layer for maximum support and airflow and a graphite-infused Simbatex® foam layer to help keep you cool, the Simba Hybrid® Mattress is engineered for optimal sleep.  

 

6) Put the fire out in your belly  

 

Manage heartburn or indigestion by avoiding lying very flat and elevating the top half of your body to keep the acid at bay. Prop yourself up using extra pillows and raise your head and neck using an adjustable pillow like Simba’s Hybrid® Firm Pillow, which features interchangeable layers for adjustable firmness, or use a wedge under the mattress to raise your head and shoulders to a higher angle.  

 

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