How what we eat and drink affects the quality of our sleep

Watching your diet can improve your sleep quality. Picture: Rachel Claire/Pexels

Watching your diet can improve your sleep quality. Picture: Rachel Claire/Pexels

Published May 8, 2024


We exist in an era where health consciousness is at an all-time high and the adage "you are what you eat" has taken on a new layer of significance.

While the effects of a diet on weight and various health ailments are well-documented, emerging research is now shedding light on how our dietary choices influence another crucial aspect of our well-being: our sleep.

This often overlooked connection has profound implications for millions worldwide who are struggling with sleep disorders or seeking to optimise their health.

Recent studies have begun to unravel how certain foods and eating patterns can disrupt sleep quality, while others can promote better rest.

The impact of diet on sleep involves a complex interplay of nutrients, hormones and neuro-transmitters that regulate sleep cycles and influence the body's internal clock.

Tetley's dietitian partner, Mbali Mapholi, has shared important insights on how our food and drink choices can impact our sleep quality.

“What we choose to eat and drink and the timing of it can significantly affect how well we sleep,” she explained.

This happens because certain foods and drinks have elements that influence brain chemicals and hormones that help control our sleep patterns.

The dietician explained that foods rich in the amino acid, tryptophan are recommended for better sleep. They include turkey, milk, and bananas.

“Tryptophan helps produce serotonin and melatonin, neuro-transmitters that encourage sleep and relaxation.”

Chamomile, known for its antioxidant, apigenin, is widely regarded as a sleep aid. Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels.

Another sleep aid is chamomile, known for its antioxidant apigenin, which attaches to brain receptors to help decrease anxiety and encourage relaxation.

Here are Mapholi’s top 5 tips to make counting sheep a thing of the past.

Get the timing right

When we eat and drink can influence our sleep patterns.

Consuming large, heavy meals close to bedtime can cause discomfort and indigestion, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Instead of having a big dinner right before bed, the dietician recommended aiming to eat at least two to three hours before bedtime. “Then opt for lighter, easily digestible snacks if you're hungry later in the evening.”

Snack mindfully

Eating foods high in added sugar close to bedtime may promote insomnia or difficulty staying asleep.

Mapholi suggested opting for melatonin-rich snacks like a handful of walnuts or almonds, or some sliced-up kiwi fruit or banana.

Limit caffeine

Instead of caffeine, choose a decaf or herbal tea that helps you sleep. “Adding chamomile tea to your night-time routine might make your sleep better by calming your nerves and making it easier to start sleeping,” she said.

Stay hydrated

Being dehydrated can make you feel uncomfortable and spoil your sleep, but having too much to drink before bed could mean you're getting up at night to go to the bathroom.

It's best to keep hydrated all day by drinking plenty of water or choosing teas without caffeine, such as rooibos or chamomile.

“As bedtime gets closer, you should drink less and, if you have tea before bed, sip it slowly to help keep your sleep undisturbed,” the dietician said.

Think before you drink

Many people enjoy a drink in the evening to relax after a long, stressful day. But if you make a habit of drinking alcohol before bed, it can mess with your sleep patterns and make your sleep worse.

This can make you feel really tired and worn out. Even though a couple of drinks might make it easier to fall asleep at first, they actually make your sleep quality drop during the night.

“Getting better quality sleep can drastically impact overall health and mood.”

"Being mindful about taking steps towards better sleep will reap noticeable rewards and should be a priority for all individuals craving more balance in their lives,” explained Mapholi.