Sugar, Caffeine, Dairy, and Alcohol

By Dr. Gretchen KubackyNutrition & Mental Health, , , ,

What You Eat and How You Sleep:  Surprising Consequences of Sugar, Caffeine, Dairy, and Alcohol

We’re all busy multi-tasking, violating the rhythms of day and night with our electric lights and non-stop schedules.  That takes a huge toll on sleep, and there’s no escaping the fact that we really all do need approximately eight hours per night in order to ensure optimal functioning.  What you may not know is how to positively influence your sleep by what you eat, what you don’t eat, and how you time what you eat.

Caffeine:  No surprise here – caffeine affects sleep.  The surprise, however is that a) you may be more sensitive to it than you realize; b) you may be consuming far more than you realize (chocolate, anyone?  Diet cola?  A little iced coffee?); c) you might need to stop consuming caffeine as early as noon in order to positively impact your sleep patterns.

Sugar:  Sugar gives you a buzz, and sugar makes you crash.  Sugar is a stimulant!  It wreaks havoc on your blood chemistry and hormonal balance, and will disrupt sleep as surely as caffeine.  So, if you’re in the habit of dessert after dinner, or drinking several coffees or sugar-sweetened sodas or juices during the day, snacking on candy, etc., you may want to experiment with eliminating the sugar, or at least stopping it after mid-day.

Tryptophan:  It’s in turkey, milk, and other forms of dairy.  A little turkey breast before you turn in may be the surprising helper that gets you to sleep through the night.  Likewise, a glass of milk or some yogurt may help you sleep.

Calcium:  Of course it’s found in dairy products, but a calcium supplement taken before bed can also help with the sleep process.

Alcohol:  Did you know that alcohol consists mainly of sugar?  It may seem like a glass of alcohol before bed makes you sleepy or helps you fall asleep, but at 2:00 a.m., the sugar buzz that sedated you in the first place is going to wear off, and you’ll wake up and have difficulty falling back asleep.

In sum, if you’re not sleeping well or have even progressed to full-blown insomnia, try these dietary suggestions before you try over-the-counter or prescription sleep medication.  The power to improve your sleep quantity and quality may well lie in what you put in your body.