After a long and tiring day at work, your brain and stomach are probably telling you that you need some comfort food. It’s perfectly fine to reward yourself with a ‘good’ supper and dessert after a hard day’s work, right?
But do you know that what we refer to as comfort foods are usually characterized by high levels of sugar, fat, salt and calories? When you are weary, you will also probably gravitate towards food choices that are easier and simpler to prepare (aka processed food). These types of food can temporarily lift your mood by stimulating the brain’s reward system.
However, these feelings of wellbeing and stress relief are temporary and might even keep you tossing and turning in bed, as you try to go to sleep three to four hours later.
On the nights when you find yourself having trouble falling asleep, it might be wise to take a look at what you had for dinner, dessert or your midnight snack… because chances are, they are the culprit for your sleeplessness:
Sweets or sugary foods
You might crave for chocolates and candies, especially if you have a sweet tooth. And even though you want to lose weight, you still cannot resist the ice cream when you need some comfort, because admit it, eating it feels like getting a big hug from a loved one.
However, sweets and sugary treats can cause us to become hyperactive. Food items that are full of simple sugar may provide a quick boost of energy due to the release of dopamine, but take note: they are void of nutrients. And the spike in your blood sugar levels may end up overstimulating you, when you should be winding down.
Once the effects of sugar in your body tapers off, you may suddenly feel groggy but restless, depriving you of the quality sleep that you need.
You consume coffee and caffeinated tea in the morning to wake you up, so you know that drinking them later in the day and especially in the evening is a big no-no.
Taking 400mg of coffee and caffeinated beverages 0, 3 and even up to 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt and reduce sleep by more than 1 hour. Many people have also reported experiencing heart palpitations, especially when they are sensitive to caffeine.
Lack of quality sleep, especially if it happens on continuous nights, leads to diminished body functions and increased chances of accidents and injury.
If you enjoy spicy foods (who doesn’t?) like buffalo wings, flaming hot Cheetos and spicy ramen, have them for lunch instead of dinner. You might be tempted to have them in the evening, especially when the weather is cold, but on the contrary, you need your body temperature to cool down in order to sleep better. Keeping your temperature too high in the evening can make it hard to be comfortable in bed and to fall asleep peacefully.
Eating spicy food in the evening can also cause indigestion and heartburn, which tend to become worse as you are lying down due to the backflow of acid into your esophagus. The burning feeling in your chest or throat, coughing and feelings of choking, the unpleasant acidic taste in your throat are symptoms of heartburn that can keep you up the whole night.
Fatty or greasy foods
It makes sense to avoid foods that are harder to digest in the evening, as these can lead to indigestion and heartburn. Fats take longer to digest than other kinds of food. Eating fatty and greasy foods close to bedtime can actually make you gain weight- as your body will store the unburned fats instead of converting them into energy when you sleep.
Most fast food items such as hamburgers, french fries, pizza, hotdogs, fall into the fatty and greasy foods category. Though it’s okay to indulge once in a while, it’s better to limit intake of these kinds of food any time of the day as they can cause various lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and even cancer, in the long run.
I know you are tired after a day of working and all you want to do is to have a dinner that is easy to prepare and tasty too. The good news is: quick and easy food fixes do not have to be unhealthy.
The internet is full of healthy meals that you can prepare in 20 minutes or less. You can also get salad packs from the nearest supermarket and top with broiled chicken breast or pan-seared salmon fillet for protein. Or you can prepare big batches of home cooked pasta sauces complete with protein and veggies during the weekend, portion them, reheat and put on top of cooked pasta. For beverages, go for chamomile tea, peppermint tea or kombucha in the evenings to calm your mood and your stomach. The options are practically limitless.
With a little bit of planning, discipline and creativity, you can have dinner that ticks off all these boxes: quick, healthy, and delicious.
Be more mindful of what you put inside your body, and you get to enjoy not just good sleep, but also good overall health for the years to come.