Maybe you prefer to have a glass of water (or, well, a glass of wine) before you have your ZZZ… only to wake up in the twilight hours to relieve your bladder. Or maybe you’re wary of late-night snacks because you think they’ll work against your sleep and your most important health goals…yet you routinely hear your tummy rumbling when your head hits the pillow and find yourself starving in the morning. What gives?
To uncover some bedtime “rules” and eating habits that we think are valid but are actually totally fine (pardon the pun) to lay low, we asked dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, Brooklyn-based CDN for his heated comments on which myths about eating and sleeping he’d like to debunk the most.
3 common myths about eating and sleeping that an RD wants to dispel
1. Alcohol is a valid sleep remedy
After a night of drunkenness, you may discover yourself as a light when you get into bed. However, Feller mentions that the overall quality of your sleep is likely to be affected when you have alcohol in your system, even if you fall asleep more quickly after a drink or two. “Alcohol reduces REM sleep, the sleep state responsible for memory consolidation and when most dreams occur,” explains Feller. According to a 2017 review, many health problems associated with sleep loss (including but not limited to illness, mental health disorders, and cognitive problems) “result from a silent epidemic of REM sleep deprivation.” Simply put, the importance of REM sleep cannot be underestimated, which is why you may want to give up those drinks for the sake of better sleep, dreams, memory, and health across the board.
“In addition, many may experience high and low blood sugar levels during sleep after consuming large amounts of alcohol, which can have a negative impact on both the quantity and quality of sleep,” adds Feller. (Not to mention the repercussions of these fluctuations on your metabolic health and general well-being.)
2. Melatonin supplements are a fast-acting cure-all
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, chances are you’ve considered supplementing with melatonin (also known as the sleep hormone); maybe it’s even a staple in your nightly regimen. “Melatonin can be helpful when used correctly”, shares Feller, emphasizing this last word. “It’s best taken about two hours before bed, which is when our bodies should naturally start to secrete melatonin.” If you take your melatonin much later, it may be best to adjust your intake accordingly. “Some people experience lightheadedness when taking it in the middle of the night or when taking too many supplements,” she continues. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health adds that only short-term use of melatonin is recommended, as information on the safety of long-term supplementation is lacking. Additionally, if you are experiencing unwanted side effects from melatonin supplementation or are interested in adding it to your routine for the first time, Feller recommends consulting a qualified healthcare professional to customize dosage and evaluate other considerations based on your personal needs.
Tip: In your quest to promote more restful sleep, be sure to establish ideal conditions to support your own body’s production of melatonin; one of the best ways to do this is to reduce your exposure to light an hour or two before bed. One study found that exposure to bright room light (compared to dim light) before bedtime resulted in a later melatonin onset in 99 percent of healthy young adult participants and shortened the duration of melatonin in 90 minutes.
3. You should never eat close to bedtime
When it comes to this rule, Feller says the pros and cons of eating shortly before bed will ultimately vary from person to person. For example, for those affected by acid reflux or GERD, “eating and then going straight to bed can increase the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus,” she explains. (The same goes for people with these conditions who recline after mealtime, even if it’s not yet bedtime.)
But in other cases, Feller mentions that it can be beneficial to eat at night. “For people who experience high variability in their blood sugar levels or have nocturnal hypoglycemia, it might be helpful to have a balanced snack, that is, a mixture of slow-release carbohydrates with protein, closer to bedtime. ”, he shares.
Plus, whether you fall into these categories or not, there are other foods and drinks Feller suggests prioritizing if you feel hungry or thirsty while relaxing. “Eating melatonin-containing foods before bed can help improve sleep quality,” she adds. Her best choices include milk and tart cherry juice, which she says can increase melatonin levels and improve sleep quality. (Research shows that eggs, fish, and nuts, plus some varieties of mushrooms, legumes, seeds, and grains, are also fair game.) If she adds them to her nightly rotation, she may find that she won’t have to rely on those melatonin supplements after all.
Learn more about eating before bed according to an RD: