Festive food and drinks that play havoc with our sleep

  • The best foods to eat and avoid to sleep well over Christmas   
  • Expert reveals why we feel so sleepy after our Christmas dinner 
  • Bed SoS reveals tips on how to optimise sleep for a more relaxing festive period 

With the festive season upon us, it is certainly a time to indulge for many. But as much as it’s nice to treat ourselves at Christmas, how does this change in diet affect our sleep? 

Online discount bed and mattress retailer, Bed SoS, which specialises in next day delivery, has teamed up with therapist and author of Sleep Ninja, Karl Rollison, to reveal which foods and drinks affect our sleep quality and health at Christmas.  

Five foods to avoid or limit: 

Brussels sprouts and cabbage 

Though vegetables are assumed good for all aspects of health, some are high in insoluble fibre.1 Karl says: “Festive vegetables such as sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage are known as cruciferous vegetables and are really hard to digest! As they get broken down very slowly, they will start to bloat the stomach which can impact your sleep.”  

Sugary foods 

Sweet treats like Christmas pudding, mince pies and tins of chocolates are often indulged in during celebrations. However, Karl suggests watching the sugar if you have trouble sleeping: “Refined carbs, such as sugar, affect the production of the mood stabiliser, serotonin, which is manufactured and stored in the digestive tract.” This is why binging on sugar can lead to stress and anxiety. 

“We need serotonin to convert into the sleep hormone, melatonin, in order to stay in sync with our sleep/wake cycle. So not only do we feel low after a sugar fix, but we can’t sleep either!” 

Christmas coffees 

Most coffee shops will bring out highly awaited festive hot beverages, which are delightful on crisp mornings and late-night journeys home. Karl warns to be wary of caffeine consumption, however: 

“Most people know that drinking coffee throughout a normal day isn’t conducive to a great night’s sleep, but chocolate, soda, mixers, ice cream, liqueurs and cocktails can also contain varying degrees of caffeine too.” 

Festive fizz 

Karl says: “Alcohol can increase the time spent in deep sleep cycle and reduce the time spent in the restorative Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep” meaning it’s great at making people fall asleep but results in a poor-quality kip. 

Prosecco, Champagne and sparkling wine are often the drinks of choice over Christmas, which means consuming lots of carbon dioxide and can lead to bloating, heartburn and discomfort during the night. The bubbles in carbonated drinks can make the stomach swollen, leading to more alcohol being absorbed, contributing to poor sleep.2 

Irish cream liqueurs 

Irish cream liqueurs are often used as a nightcap as milk is associated with sleep and therefore assumed to help you wind down on an evening. Karl says this couldn’t be further from the truth: “Baileys is full of saturated fat and has one of the highest sugar contents of any alcoholic beverage.” Sweet liqueurs will instead result in a sugar rush as well as a lighter, less restorative and poorer quality sleep.3 

Five festive foods that can help you sleep at bed time: 

Turkey/Nut Roast  

Whether a turkey feast is on the cards or a vegetarian option like nut roast, the main event of Christmas dinner can be really beneficial for sleep. Karl says: “Both nuts and turkey are high in tryptophan which is an amino acid. We convert this into serotonin during the day and it makes us feel good because it’s a mood stabiliser.”  

Nuts are also full of magnesium which activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the thing that’s responsible for relaxation4. Turkey contains both zinc and vitamin B6 which play a part in the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which is why we may feel sleepy after Christmas dinner.  

Carrots and dark leafy vegetables 

“Broccoli and carrots are great to eat for Christmas dinner as they are high in magnesium, which is one of the best minerals for relaxing the nervous system and aiding sleep.” says Karl. Carrots are also full of alpha-carotene which is associated with better sleep.5 

Pack lots of dark leafy vegetables into your diet during the holidays, as kale and spinach contain sleep promoting nutrients calcium and potassium.6 

Cheese boards 

A popular after dinner treat, especially for those who lack a sweet tooth is a cheese board. Despite the belief that cheese can give you bad dreams, it is high in calcium, which helps the brain convert the amino acid, tryptophan, to melatonin, which is why people with calcium deficiency can have trouble sleeping7.  

Mulled wine 

The cinnamon in mulled wine has antioxidants which can help reduce bloating, leading to a more comfortable night’s sleep. It can also act as a painkiller along with cloves in the drink which have antiseptic properties8. Mulled wine wouldn’t be complete without oranges, which have high levels of vitamin C which studies have shown help the effects of sleep apnoea as well as helping to prevent sleep disturbances.9 

Spirits

Though alcohol isn’t advised for good sleep, wise choices can help over the holidays. Clear spirits like vodka and gin contain less congeners, which contribute to hangovers.10 Stick to these tipples in the evening and you will see the benefits in the morning, resulting in you feeling less tired and groggy.  

Karl suggests: “Choose dark distilled drinks such as brandy, rum and whisky as a nightcap, as there is some research to show that these are better at enhancing relaxation and aiding sleep.” 

Three top tips on getting a good sleep over Christmas: 

Beat the bloat  

Prevent bloating by choosing spirits which have been distilled, rather than fermented drinks such as beers and wine, and try not to overeat. Going to sleep bloated can be extremely uncomfortable, so before getting into bed, try a few stretches, lie face down in bed and try not to eat or drink anything carbonated a few hours before hitting the hay.  

Time your naps 

If you do feel the drowsy effects of the Christmas roast and have a post-dinner nap, ensure you don’t go over the 90-minute sleep cycle by setting a timer to wake up. If you go over this cycle, you’ll be affecting your circadian rhythms, known as the body’s regulator for the sleep-wake cycle, which will then affect your bedtime sleep. 

Drink wisely 

Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to help your digestive system, especially if drinking alcohol, and choose decaffeinated versions of hot drinks or a small sized cup. Try and give your body time to process any alcohol before you go to bed – on average, this takes an hour per unit.  

Danny Richmond, Managing Director at Bed SoS, said: “We love indulging in sweet treats and hearty meals with family at Christmas, but we also want to keep this festive season as stress and anxiety-free as possible. 

“This means getting enough high-quality sleep, so it’s great to know which foods and drinks help with that, and which hinder! Along with watching what we are consuming, we need to make sure we are sleeping on the best luxury beds and quality mattresses, so we have no problems resting and recharging.” 

To see how other festive foods and drinks affect your sleep, visit: https://www.bedsos.co.uk/blog/2020/12/how-to-sleep-well-during-the-festive-season/