Insomnia and difficulty with sleep can be profoundly effected by diet. Sometimes certain foods can be removed from your diet temporarily and sleep will improve. Other times, you may discover that some foods interfere with sleep and must be permanently removed from your diet.
Caffeine and Sleep
An often overlooked cause of insomnia is the use of stimulating beverages. Caffeine is a stimulant, the effects of which can last up to 20 hours, so some people will have disturbed sleep patterns even when their last cup of coffee or tea was in the morning.
Sensitivity to the stimulant effects of caffeine varies greatly from one person to the next depending on how quickly the body can eliminate caffeine. Even small amounts of caffeine may be enough to cause sleep disturbances in some people.
Anyone experiencing sleep difficulties should avoid all caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea, colas, cocoa and chocolate, especially in the evenings. Additionally, many over-the-counter drugs contain caffeine and stimulate the nervous system, making sleep more difficult.
Carbohydrates and Nocturnal Hypoglycemia
Nocturnal hypoglycemia (low nighttime blood glucose level) is an common cause of insomnia. When there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels. These compounds stimulate the brain and are a natural signal that it is time to eat.
Eating a high-carbohydrate snack and avoiding high-protein foods in the hour or two before bed time helps some people to fall asleep more easily. This is partially due to the fact that eating carbohydrates can significantly increase levels of serotonin, which helps reduce anxiety and initiate sleep. Foods that promote drowsiness include bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, grapefruit, and whole grain crackers. However, some of these foods, like milk, can create food intolerances and actually interfere with sleep.
If blood sugar is unstable, large spikes and drops in blood sugar can occur during sleep. When blood sugar levels drop during sleep, adrenaline and cortisol are released by adrenal glands, disturbing sleep patterns. Complex carbohydrates prevent nocturnal hypoglycemia and can help increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can also help with sleep.
Tyramine and Sleep
Foods that contain tyramine cause the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.19 Avoiding foods with tyramine, particularly at night, may help those with sleep problems to sleep better. Some of the foods that contain tyramine include bacon, cheese, chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and wine.
Food Allergies and Sleep
When treating sleep disorders with diet modifications, it is especially important to rule out food allergies and intolerances. Sleeplessness in babies has long been associated with cow’s milk, a known allergen for many people.
Food allergy insomnia in a sleep disorder due to an allergic response to food allergens. It is typically caused by the introduction of a new food or drink. If you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid eating too many different things late at night.
A study at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. discovered that food intolerances in adults are associated with insomnia, anxiety, and severe depression.
Some health care providers use laboratory tests to determine if someone with sleep problems has specific food allergies. If you have food allergies, be prepared to treat unintentional exposure. Even people who are aware of their food sensitivities occasionally make a mistake.