How what you eat affects your sleep: From breakfast to midnight snacking

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
What you eat during the day can affect your sleep. [Photo: Getty]

Almost one in three of us (30%) are severely sleep deprived, according to research from the Mental Health foundation.

While screen time, stress, poor health and even whether you sleep in socks are often cited as contributing factors, it is all-too-easy to overlook the influence of diet.

Recent studies have found the timing of when we eat, as well as the specific type of foods we consume, can affect the quality and duration of our sleep. Everything from consuming too much sugar and caffeine at the right times to eating late at night can interfere with our ability to sleep properly, according to nutritionist Jenna Hope.

She tells Yahoo Style UK what to eat, and when, throughout the day in order to guarantee the best possible night’s sleep.

7am

A good breakfast sets you up for the day, but what is the best choice for sleep health?

Hope recommends a breakfast high in protein and slow-release, complex carbohydrates, to keep your energy levels steady throughout the day.

She says: “I recommend eggs on sourdough with avocado or a bowl of porridge made with jumbo oats. Jumbo oats take longer to break down meaning they’ll keep you fuller for longer.”

If you want to drink caffeine, do it now – “I recommend having it in the morning to prevent it affecting your sleep later on in the day.”

11am

Once again, during the mid morning period it’s important to keep energy levels steady to avoid having a dip – which will make you feel sluggish and lethargic long before bedtime. Avoid high sugar options, advises Jenna, and go for a handful of nuts, or oatcakes with cottage cheese or hummus.”

1pm

Lunchtime is late enough in the day to start thinking about foods which will set you up for a good night’s sleep: in this case, fibre.

Hope says: “It can be really tempting to go for a white bread sandwich which can leave you feeling tired.

“Instead opt for a high fibre salad or falafel and hummus wrap. Fibre is essential to gut health and 90% of the sleep hormone melatonin is secreted and absorbed in the gut so it’s essential that you support it with a high fibre diet.”

3pm

Time to step away from the coffee, says Hope – unless you want to be buzzing when you settle down into bed at night.

“Caffeine has a half life of six hours meaning that an afternoon coffee can still have stimulatory effects in the evening. It blocks the release of a neurotransmitter called adenosine which helps you to feel sleepy.”

Thankfully, a fibre-based fruit and nut snack can give you the energy boost you need without compromising your ability to wind down later.

Drinking coffee after 3pm can keep you awake at night. [Photo: Getty]

“Opt for an apple and an herbal tea or a date and nut bar, like Squirrel Sisters or a Naked bar. They’re also a source of fibre to help support your gut.”

6pm

While this may seem like an early dinner time for some, Hope stresses it’s the earlier the better when it comes to eating your evening meal – in order to prevent digestion affecting your ability to sleep.

As for what to eat, look for foods containing tryptophan.

Hope explains: “You want to be looking to incorporate foods which contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which helps the production of serotonin (a key hormone required to produce melatonin- the sleep hormone).

“Foods containing tryptophan include: tofu, turkey, chickpeas, yoghurt and oats. A chickpea curry or a tofu or turkey stir fry is also a really good option.”

12pm

It is tempting to have a snack or even a midnight feast when you wake up late at night, but Hope isn’t a fan of this behaviour.

She says: “ I wouldn’t advise eating during the night as this can affect your body’s ability to sleep. During the night, our body temperature tends to drop to help us stay asleep.

“But when we eat we stimulate the digestion process which increases our body temperature and can actually impair our ability to go back to sleep.”

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