Is Your Diet Keeping You Awake?

Too much fat

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or if you wake up a lot in the night, your diet could be to blame. What you eat or drink before bed, or even earlier in the day, can affect the amount and quality of your sleep. Here’s what to watch out for.

Fat and Protein
Meals high in fat and/or protein take time to digest and your stomach has to work hard to break those nutrients down. All that digestion activity can keep you from falling asleep. Fatty meals can also give you indigestion, which can bar you from dreamland.

Acidic Foods
Eating acidic juices, citrus fruit or even tomato-based sauces before bed gives some people heartburn. The sensation may start as soon as you lie down or it might wake you up an hour after you go to bed. If heartburn is a problem, avoid eating acidic foods within several hours of bedtime.

Caffeine and Alcohol
You know that caffeine keeps you awake but you may not realize that the coffee you drank as early as 2 or 3 pm is causing insomnia. People assume that caffeine only affects you if it’s consumed an hour or two before bedtime but caffeine can remain active in your body for up to 8 hours.

Even if have no problem falling asleep after drinking caffeinated drinks, the stimulant may be disrupting your sleep without you even knowing it. It can prevent you from getting the deep, restorative sleep your body needs. The same is true for alcohol. That glass of wine at dinner may leave you feeling relaxed and sleepy, but alcohol disrupts deep sleep, leaving you tired the next day.

Other Causes
If you’re not sure if your diet is keeping you up, keep a food and sleep diary for a few days or weeks. Note when and what you eat during the day, along with any sleep difficulties. This can help you pinpoint what’s keeping you up at night. Or you may find that it’s not diet-related, in which case you should see your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder or other sleep issues.

Through her Des Moines-based nutrition company, SK Health Communications, registered dietitian Stephanie Karpinske writes and develops recipes for magazines, books, supermarkets and food companies. She is the author of Read Before Dieting: Your 4-Step Plan for Diet Success and writes a blog about healthy eating, foodnuti.com. She’s coaching the Lehman family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.