What to Eliminate for a Sleep-friendly Diet
In a previous piece, we discussed the bad things which can happen to your sleep routine if you don't start eating better and practicing healthy sleep habits. However, we didn't talk much about what you should be eliminating (or, at the very least, reducing) in order to sleep easier at night and get quality rest. Well, we're going to talk all about that here in this article. Below, you can learn about all the things in your current diet and exercise regimen which are making it harder for you to sleep. You may be surprised by some of the things you find out!
The Biggest Sleep Boogeyman: Stimulants
Stimulants, while they obviously have their uses, can be detrimental when it comes to sleeping at night. The biggest culprit that most people are guilty of indulging is, of course, caffeine. Popular sources of caffeine include coffee, many different varieties of tea (green, white, oolong, black, etc.), Over-the-counter caffeine supplements, soft drinks, and diet pills. If you're trying to improve your sleep habits and get better rest, it is strongly recommended that you try and limit your sources of caffeine consumption, especially in the later hours of the day.
Caffeine is designed to stimulate your central nervous system (CNS). But the best quality sleep occurs when your CNS calms down and relaxes into a dormant state at night. When you put caffeine into your system, it prevents adenosine from connecting to receptors in the brain. When adenosine molecules successfully make this connection, it makes you feel drowsy; but when it gets blocked and increases the amount of free-floating adenosine between neurons, it makes you feel more alert and stimulates your brain.
Nicotine can have a similar effect, but through a very different process. In small doses, like the ones in cigarettes and vape juices, nicotine is also a stimulant. It elevates your heart rate, increases blood pressure, and impedes healthy metabolic function by triggering glucose release. The specific receptors in the brain which nicotine bonds with release dopamine, the neurotransmitter which makes you feel happy while also giving you a boost of energy. Unfortunately, this same psychoactive reaction also makes it difficult for people to discontinue use of products which contain nicotine because it creates a psychological addiction to the chemical.
There are millions of people who are currently taking (or secretly abusing) prescription stimulants, so those deserve an honorable mention here, too. If you are currently taking these drugs, or similar ones, and you have a legitimate prescription for them from a competent doctor, then you can rest easy knowing that you probably don't have to discontinue them. Many scientific studies show that people who suffer from ADD/ADHD actually have an easier time getting to sleep and get higher quality rest due to the drugs' interaction with their unique brain chemistry. But people who abuse these drugs for personal or professional reasons aren't so lucky. Taking stimulants is still going to cause excitability, restlessness, and even anxiety in individuals who don't need them for legitimate medical reasons.
If you like to exercise in the late evening or early at night, you should cut that out, too. But if you cannot avoid working out in the later hours of the day, you're going to want to at least try and adjust the timing. Exercise produces cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that leave you physically and mentally stimulated. Cortisol can especially exacerbate feelings of anxiety, which typically keeps people awake at night. Immediately after workout, and for about 2-3 hours after, these levels will spike and interfere with your natural circadian rhythm. However, once they begin to fall and your body temperature cools down, it can be beneficial to your sleep routine - which is why timing is so important.
Finally, the most difficult thing to eliminate from your sleep friendly diet: electronic devices (specifically, at night). If you read up on anything about sleep hygiene, you'll see experts discuss how blue light from electronic devices hinders your brain's ability to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. Avoiding electronics within a few hours of bedtime can help your body do what it needs to do to get sleepy. But if you simply cannot turn off the TV or get away from your computer, you can invest in glasses which promise to neutralize the blue light. This leaves your brain free to produce melatonin the way it normally would.
Depressants: Paradoxically Terrible for Your Sleep
Although a glass of wine or two here and there can have several different health benefits, eliminating alcohol from your diet should be at the top of your list of priorities. Daily drinking, especially at night, and especially in excess of what medical experts recommend, will dramatically decrease the quality of your sleep. In the short-term, you're almost guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night without being able to get back to sleep. And what little sleep you get won't be very restorative, either. When excess alcohol consumption interferes with how your CNS works, your brain loses its ability to properly cycle through the stages of sleep. In layman's terms: alcohol might put you to sleep, but it prevents your body from recharging its batteries.
But alcohol isn't the only depressant drug which decimates sleep quality by interfering with your brain's ability to run a proper sleep cycle. Most chemical sleep aids - whether they are prescription or over-the-counter - will basically do the same thing. OTC drugs like diphenhydramine dampen CNS function in the same way that alcohol does. Hypnotics (prescription sleep aids), although they can force you to feel like you're sleeping, may still leave the brain in an excited state. This is why their labels come with warnings about performing activities while in conscious, such as eating or driving. Regardless of which type you take, your body isn't getting the restorative rest it needs to stay healthy.
One thing you should absolutely not remove from your sleep friendly diet, however, is a natural sleep aid. Any sleep supplement, especially one with melatonin and natural herbs, can help calm your mind before bed. And since the process happens naturally, you'll have no problem getting the quality sleep that your body needs.