Watch what you eat—and when—and snooze well tonight.

Jessica Migala
February 22, 2021
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Lemon-Garlic Chicken with Green Beans
https://www.eatingwell.com/article/287840/7-day-meal-plan-fast-dinners-for-400-calories-or-less/lemon-garlic-chicken-with-green-beans/

What's on your plate and when you eat it—whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks in between—can make an impact on how you sleep later that night. The good news is that overall healthy eating habits and making mealtimes consistent and regular will support a good night's rest. But what exactly does that look like? Here we'll dig into what exactly causes poor sleep, how help yourself get a good night's rest and what 3 days of healthy, wholesome eating for better sleep looks like.

What can cause poor sleep?

There are so many reasons why you may be getting insufficient shut-eye. It can range from nighttime habits, like staying up late to Netflix or catch up on social media, work schedules such as shift work or late hours, or medical causes, including sleep apnea, stress and anxiety, or pain conditions.

But, there's also your diet. The types of meals and foods you eat can disrupt your sleep by contributing to problems like acid reflux that cause sleep disruption, says Sydney Spiewak, MD, RDN, a dietitian in East Hartford, Connecticut. Consuming caffeine late in the day or too much alcohol at night can also upset the quantity and quality of sleep you get.

Of course, for good sleep, you'll need to do other things, like set a consistent sleep and wake time, allow yourself proper time to wind down before bed, exercise daily and other sleep hygiene measures, such as sleeping in a cool, dark bedroom. Your diet is one piece of the puzzle, but it can make a real difference.

How your diet can help you have a good night's sleep

It's all about minding your body's internal clocks. "Our bodies have a circadian rhythm for everything," says Alicia Roth, PhD, a sleep disorders expert at Cleveland Clinic. Every system, from digestion to hunger, hormones and each and every organ—has its own body clock. "Having your eating habits aligned with your sleep-wake circadian rhythm can make a difference in your health," she says.

That means eating regular meals around the same time each day, says Roth. This does not have to be exact, but it should fall within an hour of when you normally eat. "Your body loves predictability and consistency," she says. This goes for everything you do during the day but setting consistent meals allows your body to send out appetite and fullness signals at the right time and ready your body to metabolize and digest your food. And, your body also uses food intake as a way to "keep time" throughout the day and set your circadian rhythms.

What to eat for better sleep

sheet pan salmon

No question your diet has an effect on your sleep. "Sleep is meant to be a restorative time for your body to repair itself. However, if you eat too close to bedtime, especially spicy foods or those that are high in fat, fiber, or sugar, your body will not be able to send all the energy it needs to the jobs of healing but will instead spend energy digesting the food you ate," says Marci Hardy, PhD, health expert for Brooklyn Bedding.

Starting with breakfast, aim for a meal with complex carbohydrates (like whole grains), protein, and some healthy fat. Focusing only on traditional breakfast foods—bagels, toast, sugary cereals, muffins—can spike your blood sugar, says Hardy. That rise in glucose levels will be followed by a fall, which impacts your energy and mood. Often, when energy levels lag and your mood takes a dive, it's natural to try to reach for another source of sugar for a pick-me-up, and that can set you up for a blood sugar rollercoaster throughout the day.

Another way breakfast and lunch play into your sleep patterns at night is because "eating healthy, well-balanced meals throughout the day can help you avoid overeating later in the day," Spiewak says. And that's important because a large, high-fat meal can be hard on your digestive system (the body is slow to metabolize fat) and also makes you more prone to reflux and indigestion during the night. If you are planning a larger meal—or really want to go spicy—slide it into the lunchtime slot where you still have many hours of digestion and activity ahead of you for the day, says Hardy.

Ideally, for dinner focus on putting together a meal balanced in carbohydrate, protein, fat and is low in sugar, adds Hardy. Eat at least three hours before bed, she suggests.

What to skip for better sleep

The trick with dinner or nighttime snacking is that you want to eat foods that are satisfying and filling—going to bed hungry can also keep you up—but not those that sit like a brick in your stomach or bubble back up in reflux. In general, avoid the following at night:

  • Alcohol (a drink with dinner is preferable to a nightcap)
  • Caffeine (cut yourself off of caffeinated drinks by 1 to 2 p.m.)
  • Large, heavy meals
  • Spicy foods
  • Acidic foods (like tomatoes and citrus you know they give you reflux)
  • Gas-causing foods (everyone has different triggers but that might be large amounts of broccoli, beans, or dairy)

"These types of foods can all lead to digestive issues while sleeping, making it more difficult to go to sleep and have a negative effect on sleep quality," says Spiewak.

3-Day Sample Meal Plan for Better Sleep

Day 1

Greek Roasted Fish

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Handful of nuts and a piece of fruit

Dinner

Evening Snack

  • 1 (8-oz.) cup herbal tea
  • 1 (1-oz.) square dark chocolate

Day 2

Greek Muffin-Tin-Omelets With Feta and Peppers on white plate

Breakfast

Lunch

Snack

  • Cheese and whole grain crackers

Dinner

Evening Snack

  • 1 (8-oz.) cup herbal tea
  • 1 (1-oz.) square dark chocolate

Day 3

Lemon-Garlic Chicken with Green Beans

Breakfast

Lunch

Snacks

  • Carrots and hummus

Dinner

Evening Snack