How overindulging at Christmas could be ruining your sleep

The festive season is finally here! If there’s one thing everyone loves about this time of year it’s the food, and a mulled wine and a mince pie or two is sure to get you in the mood to celebrate. However, what you eat (and how much) can actually have an effect on your sleep. And that’s not because too much cheese before bedtime could give you nightmares!

With Christmas just around the corner, here we’ll be looking at the ways overindulging during the festive season could be ruining your sleep, as well as what you can do to sleep better without missing out on the fun.

Reprogramming your circadian rhythm

Your circadian rhythm — also called your sleep-wake cycle — it’s what your body relies on to know when it’s time to go to sleep and when you need to be awake. This is usually regulated by the amount of light you’re exposed to, so your brain knows when it’s night and day. But your body uses your circadian rhythm to regulate other functions, such as feeling hungry and metabolising food, which means altering your eating habits can have an impact on your sleep.

New research from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the University of Manchester found that insulin plays a key role in resetting our circadian rhythm. When we eat, our insulin levels rise, which stimulates the production of a protein called PERIOD. When this protein is produced at the wrong time, i.e. just before bed, it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and keep you awake. And, because we tend to overindulge on fatty, sugary and high carbohydrate foods over the festive season, your circadian rhythm falls out of sync as your body tries to digest and metabolise what you eat.

Disruption to your sleep stages

Although you may feel like a festive mulled wine or a brandy before bed helps you drift off, it could actually be doing you more harm than good. Research conducted by the Sleep Disorders and Research Centre of the Henry Ford Hospital found that, while alcohol before bed can help you reach the deeper stages of sleep quicker, your body undergoes a rebound once the alcohol wears off, and you’ll end up in a much lighter stage of sleep for the rest of the night. This means you’re more likely to be restless throughout the night, and you’ll wake up feeling tired, groggy, and very unfestive.

Heavy foods and acid reflux

Although you might feel sleepy after your Christmas dinner or a big night out celebrating, having all that heavy food and alcohol on your stomach as you climb under the duvet can lead to discomfort. Research conducted by the Department of Gastroenterology at the Osaka City University found that eating a heavy meal three hours before going to bed increased the likelihood of acid reflux during the night. So, eating just before you go to sleep could see you waking up more regularly, affecting the quality of your rest.

How to eat (and sleep) well over the festive season

So, overindulging during Christmas can disturb your festive slumber. But that’s not to say you can’t enjoy a slice of Christmas cake now and then as long as you limit certain foods before bedtime. Fatty foods, alcohol and chocolate should be avoided at least three hours before you’re due to head to bed to avoid a restless night. As a treat, you can still eat a little Christmassy supper before bedtime, as long as you stick to small portions and your belly isn’t full.

If you’re feeling peckish or you don’t want to miss out on the festive foodie fun, there are even some foods you can have before bed that could actually help you sleep. Things like bananas, almonds, fish and grains can all help to reduce stress and calm your body, so they’re the perfect snacks to eat before bed. A glass of milk can aid digestion and reduce the likelihood of acid reflux, and if you warm it up, you’ve got yourself a calming and cosy drink.

The festive season is certainly a time for merriment, but what you eat can affect your quality of sleep. By following the tips in this guide, you can get a better night’s rest just in time for Santa’s visit! For more expert sleep tips, make sure you check out the rest of our blog, as well as our advice centre.

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