Why does turkey dinner cause a “food coma”? We asked a nutritionist how holiday meals affect sleep — and what to do about it

Why does turkey dinner cause a “food coma”?  We asked a nutritionist how holiday meals affect sleep — and what to do about it

you welcome in Ask a dietitiana series in which Yahoo Canada delves into food trends and common nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abby Sharp.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medications, or lifestyle.

Foods rich in calcium and more antioxidants can help your sleep.  (Getty)
Foods rich in calcium and more antioxidants can help your sleep. (Getty)

Since the holiday season brings with it its share of stress and late-night festivities, it’s important to pay attention to how our food choices affect the quality of our sleep.

Registered dietitian Abby gave a drink Yahoo Canada The scoop on the relationship between nutrition, meal timing, and sleep patterns, especially during the holiday period.

Here’s what you need to know.


What foods or drinks interfere with good sleep?

According to Sharpe, the number one reason for lack of sleep is… Alcohol.

“I know people like to think of alcohol as being like a nightcap – having a drink makes you black out. But it actually causes less slow-wave sleep and more REM sleep than usual,” the nutritionist explained. “Even though you may fall asleep faster, or feel it, it’s actually not good restful sleep.”

Another (and perhaps more obvious) thing is… coffee. While many can drink an espresso after dinner, it may not be the best for their quality of sleep.

Sharp claims that it takes an average of four to six hours for the amount of caffeine in the system to halve.

“If you’re highly sensitive and have a slow metabolism, some people need a full 10 to 12 hours before they basically stop sleeping, in terms of their caffeine consumption.”

High-fat, fried foods and sugary desserts should also be avoided, as they can interfere with digestion and lead to low blood sugar during the night.


What foods are best for sleep quality?

Foods rich in calcium and more antioxidants can help your sleep.  (Getty)

Foods rich in calcium and more antioxidants can help your sleep. (Yahoo Canada, images via Getty)

Sharp A explained Balanced diet It is the best diet for a good night’s sleep. Certain nutrients play a crucial role in the hormone pathways associated with restful sleep. These include: calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, D, E and K.

However, the expert said that the Mediterranean diet, which is low in sugars and red meat, but high in fruits, vegetables, plant protein and fatty fish, is the one “best associated with better sleep quality”.

There are also foods that can improve natural melatonin levels and serotonin levels in the brain.

According to Sharpe, this includes:

  • Sour cherry juiceResearch supports its use in “improving sleep quality and sleep time.”

  • kiwi, “It has been proven to help you fall asleep faster.”

  • almonds“which contains melatonin and magnesium”

  • Greek yogurtor cheeseBecause it is “rich in protein and calcium” – a lack of both of which is linked to poor sleep quality

  • Rice with proteinBecause it “helps with serotonin levels”

  • turkeyIt is rich in insulin tryptophan which “increases melatonin production.”

Sharpe championed cottage cheese as a great bedtime snack because it contains casein — a slow-digesting protein. “It really keeps you feeling very full overnight.”

She also explained the reason people go into a “food coma” after a traditional Christmas dinner is because the tryptophan insulin found in turkey is better absorbed when combined with a lot of carbohydrates. “It knocks us out with melatonin,” she claimed.

That’s why turkey with rice would be a great dinner option as well. “The researchers found that those who ate rice a few hours before bed reduced the time to help them fall asleep and improved their sleep duration.”


When should you eat before bed?

When it comes to meal timing, Sharpe advised against eating large, high-fat meals before bed.

She explained: “This depends greatly on the individual, because eating a large meal before bed, especially one that is high in fat, can cause a lot of indigestion that can interfere with sleep.”

However, she stressed the importance of preventing nighttime hunger by choosing a bedtime snack that is low in fat but high in protein.

“There is nothing that disturbs sleep more than feeling hungry at two in the morning.”


Holidays can be stressful. How can I improve my sleep?

Given the undeniable connection between lack of sleep and high stress levels, Sharp offered tips on adjusting your diet during the holidays.

She claimed that limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, while enjoying herbal tea such as chamomile, can contribute to relaxation.

Incorporating omega-3 fats from sources such as fatty fish and walnuts, along with whole grains and complex carbohydrates, can help manage stress levels without the crashes associated with refined carbohydrates.

In her quest to get a good night’s sleep during the holidays, Sharp’s bedtime snack is cottage cheese with crunchy almonds, honey, and whole-grain granola — a delicious and nutritious option.

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