When you come home after a night out and tuck into a spicy curry it tastes great — but the after-effects may not be so good. There's a theory that eating a heavy meal right before hitting the sack will leave you tossing and turning all night.
We spoke to the Dean of the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia, Professor Drew Dawson. So what does he think about the idea that eating before bedtime will mess up your shuteye? "It depends on what is in the meal and what time you eat that meal before you go to sleep," he says.
There are five stages of sleep:
• Stage one: drowsiness
• Stage two: light sleep
• Stages three and four: deep sleep
• Stage five: REM
Deep sleep is when the body rests and repairs itself ready for another day. And that deep sleep is what late eaters miss, especially in the early part of the night.
"They have a lot more awakenings and a lot more movement than the early eaters so they don’t actually get a lot of the deep sleep that is normally associated with the early hours of the night," says Sarah Biggs.
Dr Clare Collins, a lecturer in nutrition at the University of Newcastle, says the body simply isn't designed to cope with a heavy load before sleep.
"If you have a really full stomach and you lie down, you're more likely to get a bit of reflux. You've got your digestion cranked up at full speed when your body should actually be relaxed, calm — more to help you get a really good night's sleep," she says.
Being hungry is as disruptive to sleep as being too full. A light snack one hour before bed can help fuel your body for rest. But not just any snack.
"The ideal mix of foods for a really good night's sleep are going to be some carbohydrate foods, preferably the wholegrain versions of those, and then some protein foods — but just a small amount. Now a really good example of that would be something like a banana with a glass of milk, a slice of toast with a small amount of cheese or turkey on top," says Dr Collins.
Why this combination of foods?
If we look at the milk and bananas combo, milk has amino acids. In the brain that's converted to serotonin — a calming hormone. Bananas have carbs. When you add carbs to the amino acids it boosts the serotonin levels in the brain. That's important because serotonin becomes melatonin — the hormone that triggers sleep.
So here are our top tips for a good night's sleep:
• Eat dinner several hours before bed
• Eat a light, low-kilojoule supper of protein and complex carbohydrates one hour before sleep.
• No coffee
• No alcohol
So if you don't want to be grumpy the next day, then give those late-night curries a miss — you'll thank us in the morning!