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What to eat for better sleep

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth
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Can’t get through the day without a cup of coffee, a caffeine-fueled soda or an afternoon candy bar? Certain foods and drinks (sugar, caffeine) may help perk you up, but the effect is often short-lived and usually leaves you feeling more tired.

Relying on “wake-up” foods and drinks when you miss sleep can turn into a vicious cycle, too. You may be drawn back to the vending machine all day, searching for your next sugar or caffeine fix.

Following a healthy, balanced diet can help you avoid blood sugar peaks and crashes, though. Doing so can reduce your sugar and caffeine cravings, too, and help to end the negative cycle.

Balanced eating is key
One in four Americans report not getting enough sleep at times, and close to 10 percent have chronic insomnia. By focusing on what, when and how much you eat during the day and before bed, though, you can often have a more restful sleep.

Here are some tips to follow:

Include lean protein and a small amount of wholesome carbs and healthy fats in all your meals and snacks.

  • Lean protein sources include fish, chicken, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, tofu and beans.
  • Healthy fats include avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
  • Plant foods like whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit provide complex carbohydrates and fiber.

Be consistent. Have meals or snacks every 3 to 4 hours.

  • Eat breakfast within an hour (two at the most) of waking. Try eggs, peanut butter or avocado on whole-wheat toast, oatmeal topped with nuts and milk or cottage cheese and fruit.
  • For lunch, salad with grilled chicken or shrimp, a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat or a bean soup would all be good choices.
  • Include an afternoon snack if dinner is more than 4 hours away. Try fruit and a handful of nuts, a rice cake with peanut butter or whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese.

Avoid heavy meals late at night. Eating a large meal soon before bed can interfere with a restful sleep.

  • You want your body to be resting while sleeping, not busy digesting your last meal.
  • In addition, lying down with a full stomach encourages acids and gastric juices to flow up into the esophagus, which may cause heartburn in some people.

Nix the caffeine. It’s obvious that any food or beverage with caffeine can disturb sleep, but this is not true for everyone.

  • If you are sensitive to caffeine, avoid it in the afternoon and evening.
  • And remember that caffeine can be found in chocolate, tea and some sodas and medications. There is even a small amount of caffeine left in decaffeinated coffee.

Avoid alcohol in the evening. Keep in mind that though small amounts of alcohol can help you fall asleep (and may be relaxing), it actually interferes with staying asleep.

Don’t drink fluids too close to bedtime. It usually takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids. If the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night, limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime.


  • Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ, Regan MM, McDermott JM, Tsay RH, Breu JJ. Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios. Accessed: 03/01/2010
  • National Sleep Foundation. Diet, exercise and sleep. Accessed: 03/01/2010
  • Centers for Disease Control. Sleep and sleep disorders: a public health challenge. Accessed: 03/01/2010

View the original What to eat for better sleep article on myOptumHealth.com


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