Healthy Bedtime Habits From Nutritionists
Without a doubt, sleep is essential to our survival. Sleep—as well as a lack of sleep—affects our mental and emotional well-being and physical health.
We feel energized, refreshed, and ready to take on the day when we have a good night’s rest. But, if we do not get enough sleep, it can be a chore just to get out of bed in the morning.
So, how much sleep should we get each night? According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the amount of sleep we need dramatically decreases as we get older. For instance, under NSF guidelines, 1- to 3-year-old toddlers should get up to 14 hours of sleep, while adults 18 years old and over should get up to nine hours of sleep.
Regardless of age, irregular sleep habits can increase the risk of health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity have been associated with a chronic lack of sleep, according to Didi de Zwarte, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Dublin, Ireland, Over the long term, poor sleep quality can cause a person to have memory problems, become easily agitated, and more susceptible to stress, said de Zwarte, who also founded her dietetic consultancy, Didititian.
What’s more, studies have found that sleeping less can cause both children and adults to want to eat more. Research shows adults who sleep for only four or five hours reported eating more during the night than adults who slept longer. Also, a study of a weight-loss intervention involving obese preschool-aged children found that children ate less and reduced their calorie intake when they slept longer.
Unhealthy nighttime habits are the culprit when it comes to adults not getting the sleep they want and need. However, health experts say there are nighttime habits that we can develop to help us get a good night’s sleep.
Avoid Big Meals Before Bedtime
There’s a long-held belief that eating before bedtime causes weight gain and sleeping difficulties. For the most part, it’s true because physical digestion of food can prevent us from easily falling asleep. Beyond that, eating a heavy meal and going to bed afterward can cause heartburn and acid reflux problems, especially if you are lying on your back.
Eating at least four hours before bedtime may make it easier to go to sleep since this gives food enough time to digest.
Rosanne Rust, a registered dietitian, and author of DASH Diet For Dummies said she discovered that as she got older, her sleep was interrupted if she ate too close to her bedtime. Now, she tries to eat dinner no later than 7 p.m. And, if she misses the deadline, she will eat a lighter meal.
Eat Healthy Snacks
While heavy meals are not recommended, nutritionists say it’s okay to eat healthy snacks before bedtime.
Among the snacks dietitians recommend include:
- A glass of milk (warm or cold)
- Greek yogurt (rich in probiotics and may help settle your stomach)
- Chocolate-covered almonds
- Peanut butter (with a few dark chocolate chips on the top as a treat)
- Air-popped popcorn
- Cheese and fruit
- Herbal teas
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pita chips and hummus
- Frozen fruit
Kimberly Snyder, a nutritionist to celebrities and a Well+Good Wellness Council member, adds brown rice and spinach to the list of pre-bedtime foods to eat.
Brown rice, she said, is good for people who eat after a certain hour because it’s loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid, similar to melatonin, that helps to relax the brain. Spinach also has tryptophan and magnesium, both of which are beneficial as food for sleep. Snyder suggests blending spinach into a smoothie or soup to make it easier for the body to digest.
Avoid Caffeinated Drinks
The evening is not the time to drink another cup of coffee. Instead, the evening is the most “important part of the quality and quantity of your sleep,” said Chris Mohr, creator of the “21 Days To Better Sleep Course.” Mohr said his caffeine intake ends after his second cup of coffee, which he drinks well before noon.
Mohr and others suggest swapping caffeinated drinks for more cozy and relaxing beverages, like a cup of warm or cold milk. Stacy Lewis, a nutritionist at the Alabama Department of Public Health, says she has a glass of milk if she gets hungry before going to bed, and this satisfies her until breakfast.
Those who are lactose intolerant (have difficulty digesting the sugar or lactose in milk), can substitute drinking warm spices for milk. Melissa Nieves, a registered dietitian and creator of the “Fad Free Nutrition Blog,” says she drinks a warm mug of turmeric coconut milk because the aromatic spices and warmth of the beverage are “very soothing and help me relax before bed.”
Unplug from Tech and TV
Press the “Off” button on your television, mobile phone, computer, and other tech devices a few hours before going to bed. Instead, nutritionists suggest reading a book, writing in a journal, or meditating as a way to destress yourself before falling asleep.
It’s important to have a clear mind in order to rest soundly, said Kathy Siegel, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The 30-Minute Clean Eating Cookbook. Siegel said she keeps a notepad by her nightstand to write down any random thoughts, such as items to get from the supermarket or a work email to follow up on. These and other thoughts need to be off your mind before going to sleep, she said.
Prep for The Next Day
Jinan Banna, a nutritionist and an associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa Department of Human Nutrition, said her nighttime routine includes preparing lunch for the next day. She chooses foods, such as fish, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains for “optimal nutrition.”
Bryan McDowell, a registered dietitian, said he spends five to 10 minutes before he goes to bed cleaning up his kitchen, making sure that all the cups, dishes, and other items that have accumulated on the counter are all put away. In this way, McDowell said he’s setting himself “up for a fresh start the next morning.”