Limiting intake before bed may be key to better sleep

According to new research published in the Journal of Dietitians Australia, Nutrition & Dietetics, limiting food intake before bed may be the key to a better night’s sleep.

While the research, which was conducted by Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian, Dr Dominique Condo, who is a Lecturer in Sports Nutrition at Deakin University, pertains to elite female athletes it’s a finding worth considering for the general population, too.

As part of the study, Dr Condo tracked sleep patterns and food intake of 36 Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) players over 10 consecutive days during pre-season training.

Dr Condo found that players who had a longer period between their last meal and bedtime, tended to wake less after going to bed, resulting in a better night’s sleep.

Daily intake of iron, calcium and magnesium was also associated with improved sleep quality – iron was associated with a longer sleep time and, calcium and magnesium were both linked with an easier ability to fall asleep.

“Despite eating and sleeping being an integral part of our everyday routine, there is limited data on the relationship between food and sleep in athletes,” says Dr Condo.

“AFLW players have a high training load, which requires strong technical skills, and this can be quite demanding on the body.

“Optimal nutrition and sleep are vital for physical and mental recovery and understanding how food and sleep are connected can help us improve player outcomes.”

Conversely, Dr Condo adds that when a similar study was conducted on male athletes, “eating a meal close to bedtime was associated with less waking after going to sleep”.

According to Dr Condo, “this difference between genders may be due to the different training times of the male and female teams” and that further study is warranted to determine “the influence of training on the food-sleep relationship.

“These findings highlight the importance of eating a nutrient-rich diet, particularly as women have higher requirements for some nutrients like iron.

“Helping athletes meet their daily intake needs for these minerals may assist with sleep, and in turn, aid recovery and performance,” adds Dr Condo.

While these findings are based on elite female athletes, the same message can apply to all healthy active people.

“More generally, these findings provide further encouragement to eat a variety of nutritious foods to not only look after your health but help promote better sleep.

“It can also suggest that for some, not eating close to bedtime may help provide a more restful sleep, but many factors are likely to influence this,” says Dr Condo.