Woman lying on bed with food

Nutrition & Sleep: Exploring the Western Diet

Diet and sleep have a relationship that is not always closely examined. Individually, the two have a major role to play in the maintenance of our overall health, but the impact that they have on one another is complex.

There is a general understanding that certain foods can make it hard to fall asleep, but the mechanisms behind it all are a lot less clear. Understanding how nutrition and diet impact sleep can help you make better food choices and lead a healthier life.

In this article, we’ll examine this relationship with a spotlight on the Western diet. From there, we’ll provide some nutritional strategies that may improve your sleep quality.

Foods that Interfere with Sleep

Foods and drinks that contain caffeine are the most obvious culprits when it comes to sleep disruptions. Although caffeine is most often associated with coffee, it can also be found in items such as chocolates, teas, and sodas. The controversy around caffeine and sleep is long-standing, with plenty of differing opinions about just how much of it can interfere with quality rest.

The same can be said about the ongoing debate around when it is most and least appropriate to consume coffee. What we know is this – caffeine late in the day is not typically recommended. One study suggests that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bedtime may reduce sleep by more than one hour. If this kind of sleep deprivation persists, it can spell long-term sleep troubles that can produce negative health consequences.

Beyond caffeine, foods that are heavily processed and high in sugar and carbs are known to interfere with sleep. These kinds of foods are often a staple in what’s commonly called “The Western diet.”

Food items that tend to make up the Western diet include:

  • Processed meats (deli meats, bacon, hot dogs)
  • Red meat
  • Snacks
  • Takeout foods
  • Soft drinks
  • White bread
  • Beer
  • Pasta and rice

Diet and Lifestyle Habits That Affect Sleep

So, what’s the deal with these foods? For many of us, they are quick to make, convenient, and most importantly, they satisfy our hunger cravings. Despite these perceived advantages, the aforementioned “Western” meals may have implications for both stress and sleep troubles. Unchecked stress and anxiety can open the door to sleep deprivation. When sleep-deprived, people are more likely to reach for foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar.

Let’s take a look at a 2017 Australian study to better understand this. Researchers grouped people into three categories: a “prudent” dietary group, a Western diet group, and a mixed group. Those belonging to the prudent dietary group were older, less depressed, more educated and more active. Their lifestyle choices also consisted of less alcohol and smoking.

What stands out most in this study is that the “prudent group” members also reported having an easier time falling asleep. The Western group, on the other hand, reported a diet consisting of a high intake of processed foods. Sleep onset for the “prudent” group was 16.3 minutes while the Western and mixed groups found themselves at 19.2 and 22.5 minutes, respectively. Although this study does not observe the link between diet and factors like sleep duration or quality, it does give us a lot to consider – particularly when it comes to our lifestyle habits.

The Takeaway

While the research is still in its early stages, there is good reason to believe that a healthy diet can contribute to healthy sleep. A sleep-promoting diet may include a good helping of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. One study found that a diet lacking in key nutrients like calcium and magnesium can have an impact on sleep.

The body’s biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, keeps the body running on schedule. Beyond regulating our sleep-wake cycle, it also has a handle on regulating our hunger and appetite. Making better food choices may have a hand in re-programming the clocks that our bodies run on. So, what are some things to consider as you become more mindful of your pre-bedtime consumption habits?

Monitor Caffeine Intake

Caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to 6 hours. With this in mind, it is often encouraged to limit caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening hours.

Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime

It is typically recommended that alcohol not be consumed about four hours before bedtime. The substance has sedative effects that certainly induce drowsiness, but it is often linked to poor sleep quality. Stay tuned! We’ll be unpacking everything you need to know about alcohol and sleep in an upcoming blog post.

Save the Spicy Food for the Daytime

Adding chili peppers to your favourite dishes is an excellent way to kick your meals up a notch. Unfortunately, it may have some not-so-great consequences on your sleep health. Eating spicy foods just before bedtime can cause indigestion and trigger abdominal pain in some people. Any discomfort felt while experiencing this can make it exceptionally difficult to get some shut-eye.

Stay Hydrated

This is a no-brainer, but in the busy lives we lead, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Beyond the irritability and fatigue that comes with dehydration, it also disrupts our sleep. Of course, too much fluid intake can lead to excessive urination and frequent trips to the bathroom. It’s important to find the right balance here – drinking a small glass before bed, for example, should do no harm.

Ensuring that you are consistently hydrating throughout the day is an important habit that positively impacts your mood, cognition and keeps your organs functioning as well.

Limit Sugar Consumption

If you have a sweet tooth, you may want to keep reading. A 2016 study concluded that those who consume sugar often in their diets tend to sleep less deeply and experience more restlessness at night. What’s more, a vicious cycle of sorts tends to develop – disrupted sleep can produce a deeper craving for sugar the following day.

Go Natural with Zenbev

Natural sleep aids tend to have fewer side effects than their prescription counterparts. This is especially true of Zenbev which is powered by organic food ingredients. By making Zenbev a part of your routine, you kill two birds with one stone; consuming healthy ingredients while protecting your sleep architecture.

The concept of healthy foods and diets can be highly subjective. A one-size-fits-all approach to food simply wouldn’t work – even identical twins who share the same DNA react differently to the same foods.

+Join us next time as we explore some of the world’s most popular diets. From Paleo to Keto to Mediterranean diets, we’ll evaluate their benefits and take a look at how they affect your sleep.

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