Like eating, sleeping is an essential human function, but scientists are not 100 percent sure why we actually need to sleep. What we do know is that sleep is a critical time for recovery, solidifying learning and promoting overall health. I’m sure most of us are familiar with sleep recommendations (8-9 hours for teens and young adults), and we all probably can name a few reasons sleep is important, but today we’ll explore how nutrition and sleep impact each other and why both are so essential for athletes.
How nutrition impacts sleep
While diet and sleep routines are highly individualized, there are some general recommendations for foods to avoid shortly before bed, as they tend to keep us awake. Large meals or meals high in fat before bed can hinder sleep because they take longer to digest. When we are sleeping many bodily functions slow down, and digestion is one of them. If a large meal or fatty meal is sitting in the stomach, it can cause discomfort, nausea or heartburn. To avoid these potential issues, have your last meal or snack two hours before bed.
Spicy foods might cause heartburn or general GI discomfort in some people as well, so it might be prudent to enjoy them at lunch. Finally, avoid caffeine after noon to prevent disruption of sleep at night. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, meaning that if you consume a cup of coffee at noon, half of the caffeine remains in your system until 5 or 6 p.m., and the full effects likely are not gone until 10 p.m. or later.