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Self-Help for Insomnia & Sleep Deprivation

A Self-Help Workbook by Lucinda Sykes, M.D.

Chapter 5

Food & Drink that Cause Trouble Sleeping


Dietary Factors that Cause Trouble Sleeping

Your sleep diary might show you a connection between your dietary habits and your sleep problems.

Some people find that a heavy meal before bed causes trouble sleeping. If smaller dinners help you sleep better, schedule your main meal for lunchtime.

Some people notice that a particular food causes sleep trouble even though other people can eat that same food without any problem.

If you have heartburn or “GE reflux” (gastroesophageal reflux), you probably know the food & drink you need to avoid before bedtime. Usually these are spicy, acidic or carbonated but sensitivities vary. Smaller evening meals might help too. (See other suggestions regarding GE reflux in Chapter 8.)

New research suggests that a high fat diet may be related to higher stress levels and trouble sleeping. More research is needed but you could investigate for yourself by keeping record of your diet in your sleep diary. Does decreasing your fat intake help you sleep better? (Many snack foods, pastries & baked goods have high fat content -- so do fried dishes, sauces and some meat & dairy.)

Even if you’re on a weight-loss diet, avoid going to bed hungry. A light healthy snack before bed could be all you need for better sleep (as suggested in Chapter 9).

In the long run, better sleep could help you lose excess weight. Studies show that people suffering sleep deprivation tend to eat more than usual. Interestingly, they tend to choose foods of high fat content.

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Caffeine & Sleeplessness

Often people don’t realize their sleeplessness is caused by the caffeine they consumed earlier in the day. Avoid caffeine after 4 pm. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and must avoid it after 12 noon, or even exclude it entirely from their diet.

Sensitivity to caffeine often increases with age.

Caffeine is present not only in coffee, but also in many teas (including green tea), soft drinks, and chocolate.

Many nonprescription medications contain caffeine. Check package labels, especially for medications intended to relieve headache and other pain.

Surprisingly, decaffeinated coffee and tea still contains enough caffeine to give some people trouble sleeping.

If caffeine is affecting your sleep, you may need to cut back gradually over several days or even weeks. Caffeine withdrawal can cause headache, lethargy and mood change until the body rebalances.

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Alcohol & Sleep Trouble

Many people don’t realize that their sleep trouble is caused by alcohol. Alcohol might cause a person to fall asleep (even “pass out”) but the resulting sleep tends to be disrupted and not as restorative as natural sleep.

Avoid drinking alcohol within 2 hours of bedtime. Doctors used to prescribe alcohol as a sleep aid, but now we know that alcohol before bed causes poor quality sleep.

Drinking more than 1-2 alcoholic beverages per day can interfere with your body’s sleep-wake cycle (depending on your weight and individual sensitivity). This means that chronic alcohol use can disrupt sleep even on days when you don’t drink.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause temporary insomnia. This means that when you stop drinking (or significantly reduce your intake), you might have more trouble sleeping than before. This sleep trouble can last for several days, even several weeks, until your sleep-wake cycle returns to normal.

Insomnia caused by alcohol withdrawal is usually temporary unless complicated by other factors, such as those listed in this workbook (e.g. smoking, stress, diet, etc.).

Note: If sleep trouble has been long-standing, insomnia can continue as a type of learned habit -- even after the original cause has ended. (See Chapter 14: The Habit of Insomnia).

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Note: This workbook of “Better Sleep Tips” is included with purchase of the Sleep Meditation CD.

Chapter Selection -> 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8-20   Sleep Meditation CD

sleep meditation cd
  • a self-help CD for people who have trouble sleeping
  • easy to follow even if you’ve never meditated before
  • helps occasional and chronic sleeplessness
  • listen to a sample audio clip

CAUTION:“Self Help for Insomnia” is an educational site about adult insomnia & sleep deprivation. This site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. The site provides general information that might not apply to your particular sleep problem.

If you have chronic trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Discuss this site’s information & CD with your doctor to decide what’s appropriate for you.

Be sure to read Chapter 2: Sleep Disorders & Other Medical Causes of Lack of Sleep.

Copyright ©2007 Lucinda Sykes
Permission granted for personal, non-commercial use
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