Why some foods are unhealthy at bedtime

By: Chioma Umeha

New studies have confirmed that eating food before bedtime can be dangerous to health. They have also offered tips to ensure that diets do not lead to sleepless nights.

Spicy food
Think twice before having chicken pepper soup for dinner. Eating a big, highly seasoned meal close to bedtime can interfere with your shut-eye. “It’s not that the spice interrupts your sleep,” said an expert, Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The spice causes heartburn, and that interrupts your sleep, according to studies. Fiery foods can lead to indigestion and reflux, and, as a result, to ‘sleep fragmentation,’ said Lisa Medalie, a behavioural sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago. She recommends eating heavy or spicy foods at least three hours before bedtime.

Chocolate or other caffeine-filled food
Your body can take up to five hours to get caffeine out of your system. And if you are susceptible to feeling jittery, skipping the afternoon meal might not cut it. “Several studies have shown that 30 milligrams of caffeine – about the amount of caffeine in a candy bar – can have alerting effects and disruptive effects on sleep,” said Timothy Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center of the Henry Ford Health Center. Watch out for sneaky caffeine hiding spots like chocolate-covered espresso beans and chocolate cake. “If you take a small slice or have a couple of bites, that probably will not affect your sleep,” said Phyllis Zee, MD, associate director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology and professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Experts also advise that you should avoid eating anything late or anything that contains caffeine, if you already have insomnia.

Watch your intake of wine at dinner, if you are one to toss and turn at night. Alcohol is a depressant, which makes you drowsy, but then its effect reverses. Alcohol has two effects, explained Jerry Siegel, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep Research at UCLA. One is to put you to sleep, and the other is to wake you up three or four hours later. Alcohol also reduces the amount of REM rest (the final stage in the sleep cycle). Commenting, Clete Kushida, medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center stressed: “It just does not provide a good substitute for natural sleep. Often people wake up less refreshed.”

Health experts are of the view that staying hydrated is healthy. But, they further advise that you drink well throughout the day and do not guzzle water at night. Lay off drinks 60 to 90 minutes before you sleep, they also recommend. An expert, Zee, suggested: “Give (the body) enough time to void that fluid before bed.”

Giant meals
Your body is not prepared to digest heavy meals or decadent desserts right before bedtime. Not to mention that staying up late, noshing on goodies, may disrupt your normal circadian rhythm, said Roehrs.

Do not go to bed eating nothing
On the flip side, do not go to bed famished either. “Starvation or excessive hunger causes sleeplessness and increased activity,” said Dr. Ruth M. Benca, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Experts further said: “If there is a general rule of thumb, being too hungry makes it difficult to sleep and eating a lot of food makes it difficult to sleep.” If hunger strikes after dinner, try a small snack, such as a mini pack of almonds, an hour before bedtime, said Zee.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on February 21,  2015.


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