Want to Improve Your Sleep? Be Mindful of What You Drink and Eat!

By Olga Lykhytska, Kristin Harden and Michelle Wehbe, SHAC Sleep Committee

When sleep troubles arise, the root of the problem is often tough to pinpoint. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of when you go to bed and when you set your alarm. Lots of different factors can come into play, and a big one to consider is consumption. What we eat, drink, and even what we’re prescribed, can have a profound impact on how we sleep, and the results are sometimes surprising.

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Alcohol & Sleep

It’s been scientifically demonstrated that alcohol changes sleep physiology, but the effects aren’t exactly straightforward. As a depressant, alcohol may make it easier for most people to fall asleep. Unfortunately, tolerance to alcohol’s sleep-inducing effects can develop quickly, often within just three days.  And even when alcohol helps you fall asleep, it doesn’t necessarily help you stay asleep. Later sleep phases can be seriously disrupted, with an increase in the amount of light sleep in place of deeper sleep phases and wake periods during the second half of sleep.  So if you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s best to avoid alcoholic beverages.

Stimulants & Sleep

Stimulants, at the most basic level, are defined as psychoactive drugs that induce temporary improvements in mental and/or physical function. Known as “uppers,” they can affect alertness, wakefulness, and movement. Some of the most common examples of stimulants include caffeine, prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin, and sugary energy drinks. When prescribed by a doctor and used correctly, such stimulants can improve bodily function for some people. However, large problems can occur when people consume too many stimulants or take them without a prescription. While these uppers may increase energy and productivity for a short amount of time, they come at a price. This includes:

  • Making it difficult for a person to fall asleep
  • Increasing the number of times a person wakes up during the night
  • Disturbing/interrupting normal sleep cycles
  • Not allowing sleep to be “restful,” causing a person to not feel rested when they wake up

So in general, it is best to consult a physician regarding the use of stimulants. In regards to prescription drugs such as Adderall, it is also a felony to buy and sell them without a prescription. The bottom line is that stimulants can be helpful, but they should only be used when necessary and under the guidance of a physician.

Food & Sleep

What you eat can seriously affect how you sleep! Sometimes for the better, but other times for the worse. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, warm milk, chamomile tea, or a small protein snack before bedtime can help ease you into rest. Large, starchy, or sugary meals or snacks before bed? Not so much… Going to bed with a full stomach can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Also keep in mind that too many beverages before bed can result in bathroom breaks that disrupt sleep and rest. Going to bed thirsty or hungry can make it difficult to fall asleep, but overcompensating can be even worse! The best thing you can do is find a healthy balance by figuring out what works best for you!

References: Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (n.d.). Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use . Retrieved March 18, 2013, from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism : http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm

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