We all know the importance of a healthy diet and restful sleep for our health. But do we really know how closely the two are related?
People with sleep disorders should limit their consumption of foods and drinks with stimulating properties as much as possible, regardless of the time of da.! Did you know that the theobromine in chocolate has a half-life (the time it takes for its blood concentration to drop by half) of 6 to 10 hours? Likewise, caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate) has a half-life of about 4 to 6 hours, and up to 12 hours in women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills.
It's a good idea to eat protein-rich meals earlier in the day (lunch and dinner) rather than for an evening meal.
Tryptophan is an amino acid (constituent of proteins) valuable for sleep, due to the following chain reaction:
Tryptophan > 5-hydroxytryptophan > Serotonin > Melatonin and other hormones
Many foods are high in tryptophan, such as meat, poultry, and fish. However, these also contain many other amino acids that compete with tryptophan and limit its passage through the brain, such as dopamine (an excitatory neurotransmitter that affects sleep), hence the benefits of consuming these types of food earlier in the day.
Conversely, foods rich in complex carbohydrates increase the production of tryptophan in the blood and should preferably be eaten for dinner to promote relaxation. A light snack rich in complex carbohydrates (ex: a few bites of whole unsweetened oatmeal) can even be eaten before going to bed (unless you are suffering from reflux!), providing a good calorie reserve for the night.
However, it's important to avoid the consumption of refined / processed carbohydrates in the evening. Unlike complex carbohydrates which are absorbed slowly by the body, refined carbohydrates will cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. As a result, the body will react by releasing an increased amount of insulin (insulin spike), causing an equally drastic decrease in blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia). This rapid drop will in turn lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones), which can interfere with sleep.
As for whole fruits, falling into the category of simple carbohydrates by their fructose content, the fiber they contain will slow absorption, helping to prevent "spikes" in blood sugar. Their effect is therefore halfway between that of refined carbohydrates and that of complex carbohydrates. Thus, they should be consumed in moderation in the evening, except for the cherry which, thanks to its natural melatonin content, will improve the quality of sleep.
Difficult digestion risks disturbing sleep (increased risk of gastric reflux, more restless sleep, etc.), so avoid taking the evening meal just before going to bed (wait at least 2 to 3 hours) ... Certain foods contribute in addition to the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, accentuating reflux problems: alcohol, chocolate, coffee, fatty foods, mint, onion, and sugar. Avoiding alcohol will also lead to a more restful and deep sleep.
Benowitz, N. L. (1990]. Clinical Pharmacology of Caffeine. Annual Review of Medicine; 41 (1): 277–288
Gangwisch, James E & al. (2020). High glycemic index and glycemic load diets as risk factors for insomnia: analyses from the Women's Health Initiative. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 111 (2): 429–439.
Prousky, Jonathan. Textbook of Integrative Clinical Nutrition. CCNM Press Inc.; 2012, 506 pages.