How what we eat and drink (and when) affects sleep

Nutrition is important to overall health yet many people overlook the significant role that diet plays in sleep quality. Tetley partner dietitian, Mbali Mapholi, has provided useful insight into the connection between diet and sleep – and tips on how to get a great night’s rest!

Image credit, Carol Mkhize

“What we eat and drink, and when, can profoundly influence our ability to get a good night’s sleep,” explained Mapholi. “This is because certain foods and beverages contain compounds that affect neurotransmitters and hormones involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Getting enough sleep isn’t just about being rested and able to function the next day – the role that sleep plays in our long-term health and well-being is absolutely key, and that is why understanding the link between what we eat and drink and our sleep is so important.”

She said foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan can aid sleep. Tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin that promote relaxation and sleep, can be found in foods like turkey, milk, and bananas. Another example is chamomile which contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in the brain, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.

Here are Mbali’s top 5 tips to make counting sheep a thing of the past.

Mbali’s dietary tips for getting the best sleep

1.       Get the timing right
When we eat and drink can influence our sleep patterns. Consuming large, heavy meals close to bedtime can cause discomfort and indigestion, making it difficult to fall asleep. Instead of having a big dinner right before bed, aim to eat at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Then opt for lighter, easily digestible snacks if you’re hungry later in the evening.

Tetley partner dietitian, Mbali Mapholi

2.       Snack mindfully
When we’re tired, we can often end up bingeing on snacks without really feeling hungry. This can be exacerbated if we’re distracted – for example, snacking while watching TV or scrolling through social media. “Choosing snacks mindfully is even more important before bed, as what we snack on can impact sleep and also undo the benefits of healthy eating during the day,” said Mbali. Sugary snacks are the worst option as eating foods high in added sugar close to bedtime may promote insomnia or difficulty staying asleep. Rather opt for melatonin-rich snacks like a handful of walnuts or almonds, or some sliced-up kiwi fruit or banana.

3.       Limit caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that can disrupt sleep by increasing alertness and delaying the onset of sleep. It’s important to be mindful of your caffeine consumption, especially in the afternoon and evening. Rather opt for a decaffeinated or herbal tea, ideally one that promotes sleep such as Tetley Pure Chamomile. “Incorporating Tetley Pure Chamomile tea into your bedtime routine may aid in improving sleep quality as it calms the central nervous system and facilitates the initiation of sleep,” said Mapholi.

4.       Stay hydrated
Dehydration can lead to discomfort and disrupt sleep, but drinking large amounts of fluids close to bedtime can increase the likelihood of waking up to use the bathroom during the night. Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking water or tea regularly, particularly caffeine-free ones like Laager Rooibos or Tetley Chamomile. However, try to taper off fluid intake in the hours leading up to bedtime, and sip slowly if you do drink tea before bedtime to minimise disruptions to sleep.

5.       Think before you drink
Having a drink to unwind in the evening is a common go-to for individuals with busy or stressful daily routines. However, drinking alcohol at night regularly can disturb your sleep cycle and affect sleep quality, leading to feelings of general fatigue and lethargy. While a glass or two of alcohol may help one fall asleep, this is negated by the adverse impact that drinking alcohol has on sleep quality during the night.

“Getting better quality sleep can drastically impact overall health and mood,” concludes Mbali. “It can be easy after a long, stressful day to fall into negative habits and patterns in the evenings. But being mindful about taking steps towards better sleep will reap noticeable rewards, and should be a priority for all individuals craving more balance in their lives.”

To discover more healthy tips and recipe ideas from Tetley Tea, follow @TetleyTeaSA on Facebook and Instagram or visit For more insightful dietary information, follow Mbali Mapholi @Urbandietitian.

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