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Can your diet affect your sleep?

Your diet affects more than your waistline.

“What and when you eat can affect your sleep,” says Aris Iatridis, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist and pulmonologist at Piedmont.

What happens when you eat right before bed?

Eating just before going to bed could leave you tossing and turning all night as your digestive system processes your food.

“It’s best to avoid eating heavy meals at night,” says Dr. Iatridis. “If you’re going to have a big meal, have it in the middle of the day. You’re less likely to store the extra calories as fat because your body will have time to burn them off and you’ll be less likely to have heartburn.”

Heartburn is a frequent complaint among his patients.

“Heartburn gets worse as you lie flat because there is no gravity to keep your stomach acid down,” he explains. “In some cases, stomach acid can splash up to the larynx and cause a spasm in your airway. No one dies from this, but it is frightening.”

If you have heartburn at night, talk to your doctor about lifestyle modifications or heartburn medications to combat your symptoms.

Which foods and drinks are most likely to disrupt sleep?

For the best night’s sleep, avoid:

  • Acidic foods. Even healthy foods like onions, tomatoes, garlic, citrus fruits, dark chocolate and peppermint can trigger reflux.
  • Alcohol. “While alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, after that initial period, it disrupts your sleep,” says Dr. Iatridis. “I don’t recommend alcohol late at night, especially not for sleep quality.”
  • Caffeine. Caffeinated beverages are also a culprit, so limit coffee, tea and soda after 2 p.m. Watch out for food and drinks that contain caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee- or chocolate-flavored desserts, soda and even decaf coffee.
  • High-fat foods. These include butter, cheese, fatty cuts of meat and anything fried.
  • Spicy meals and condiments. Avoid fiery dishes and sauces to reduce your risk of heartburn.

When to stop eating before bed

Do you best to eat dinner a few hours before bedtime.

“If you’re going to eat dinner at 6 p.m., let that be it for the night,” says Dr. Iatridis. “Eat enough so you’re satiated, but not too full. If you want something sweet, eat a small portion right after your meal.”

Can going to bed hungry negatively impact sleep?

Conversely, going to bed hungry can also disrupt your sleep.

“Ideally, you should eat enough at dinner to keep you satiated until bedtime, but if you are truly hungry, have something light, like a small bowl of cereal,” he suggests.

If you want to sip on something before bed, try something that is calorie- and caffeine-free, like herbal tea, or low-calorie, like warm skim milk.

A healthy diet can improve sleep

A healthy meal plan and good sleep go hand-in-hand.

“One of the best things you can do to get better sleep is to maintain a healthy weight and eat a nutritious diet,” says Dr. Iatridis. “Being overweight impacts your overall sleep because it can lead to snoring and sleep apnea.”

Get your best night’s sleep with tips from Piedmont’s sleep experts.

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