Most of us know that what we eat affects how we sleep. Consuming large, rich meals is known to cause sleep problems, usually because it causes bloating, stomach upset, and other discomfort that can interrupt your sleep. However, when you eat is important, too. If you struggle with sleep and you feel like you’ve tried everything, it may be worthwhile to rethink when you eat your meals.
When You Eat Affects How You Sleep
Sleep affects a lot of things - metabolism, weight gain, waist circumference and more. It makes sense, then, that you want to get the best sleep possible, every single night.
While there has not been a whole lot of research done on meal timing and sleep, the studies that are there suggest that there is a connection between these two that needs more research for us to gain a full understanding.
What Can Ramadan Teach Us?
One study looked at the type of intermittent fasting that happens during Ramadan, when Muslims eat only between sunrise and sunset. Subjects who fasted like this did not get as much deep sleep, nor as much REM sleep, as they did when they were eating normally. Since deep sleep is where the body heals itself and REM sleep is where it forms memories (among other things), this loss could be significant.
Researchers did not determine whether the change in sleep patterns was specific to the eating pattern or whether it occurred because the eating pattern changed. It’s possible that the body could, over time, adjust to such an eating pattern and transition back to normal sleep cycles.
Daytime Intermittent Fasting and Sleep
Another study looked at daytime intermittent fasting and how it might affect sleep patterns.
This particular study only allowed mice to eat between 9am and 4pm, though during those hours they could eat whatever they liked. While the restricted mice didn’t actually eat any less than normal, they were all healthier than the mice that ate all day. This pattern held even when the mice on the restricted timetable were given a diet much higher in fat than the ones allowed to eat all day.
This suggests that keeping food away from bedtime - even going so far as to skip dinner - could help you sleep better. Keeping your food consumption limited to the daytime, rather than eating at night, seems like it might be beneficial.
Meal timing alone may not be enough to fix your sleep, but changing up when you eat could contribute to better rest. In general, the research seems to suggest that it is better to give yourself a significant gap between your last meal and falling asleep. This seems to ensure that your food is digested and the body can focus on rest. It may also help you sleep better if you have a full day’s load of nutrients in your body before you close your eyes.
***Tuck is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NBC News, NPR, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.