I have often been asked by patients about the relationship of food and sleep. There are various articles on the internet that suggest eating foods like bananas and cherries before bed can help promote better slumber. I even have a coworker that swears that her glass of cherry juice puts her right to sleep. Can I say for sure that these things are helpful? Well, I guess it is up to the patient. However, what I can say is that there is research that suggests that what you eat in the evening can influence your sleep.
We probably have all experienced feeling sleepy after eating a high-carbohydrate meal, so we know that food has an effect on our bodies. Researchers now have evidence that fiber and sugar eaten before bed can affect the different stages of sleep.
In the study, meals were provided to participants 3 times daily, with the evening meal at 7:00 pm. The diet contained 31% of energy from fat, 53% of energy from carbohydrates, and 17% of energy from protein. Sleep was assessed each night by polysomnogram. The participants also had an opportunity eat whatever they wanted for 2 days of eating for comparison.
The results showed that higher fiber intake was associated with decreased time in stage 1 sleep, our lightest stage of sleep, and an increased time in slow wave sleep, which is our most restorative sleep. Higher saturated fat intake was associated with decreased time in slow wave sleep. Both sugar and non-sugar/non-fiber carbohydrates were associated with more nocturnal arousals.
Given these findings, a diet rich in fiber with reduced intake of sugar and non-fiber carbohydrates may help a patient sleep better. So, thinking about our bananas and cherries again, I’m not sure they would fit the criteria. Both bananas and cherries have fiber, but they also have a considerable amount of sugar. Bananas have 3 grams of fiber and 19 grams of sugar, and cherries have 13 grams of fiber and 18 grams of sugar. Although it may not sound as appealing, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage are great sources of fiber. These might be better suggestions for your patients if they want to improve their sleep!
St-Onge MP, Roberts A, Shechter A, Choudhury AR. Fiber and saturated fat are associated with sleep arousals and slow wave sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(1):19–24.