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6 Foods That Can Affect Sleep Apnea

June 04, 2020

Your diet often plays a significant role in sleep quality, especially if you suffer from sleep apnea or other health issues. Nutrition and sleep apnea are closely related, as some foods can worsen symptoms, while other foods can help you get a better night’s sleep.

If your nightly routine currently involves grabbing a snack before bed, make sure you choose the right foods that can help you fall and stay asleep without contributing to or worsening your sleep apnea symptoms. Here’s a look at how six common foods can affect sleep hygiene and sleep apnea.

Worst Foods for Sleep Apnea

1. Chocolate

Many people enjoy treating themselves to some chocolate as a special snack before bed, but remember that chocolate contains caffeine. Dark chocolate contains a higher amount of caffeine than milk chocolate and if you’re sensitive to caffeine you may experience disturbed sleep. If you like to indulge in chocolate, try eating it earlier in the day to prevent it from interfering with your sleep.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol produces sedative effects that can help you fall asleep relatively quickly. However, alcohol relaxes the throat muscles that control breathing, which can cause snoring and interruptions in sleep. It can also trigger inflammation in the airways, which can be especially problematic if you suffer from sleep apnea and COPD.

A 2018 study published in Sleep Medicine found that alcohol consumption can cause or worsen obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), especially among those who drink alcohol shortly before bedtime. If you fall into this category, try sipping smaller amounts or limit drinking to earlier in the evening.

3. High-Fat and Sugary Products

Junk foods are high in fat and sugar, which can affect your sleep quality and sleep apnea. Eating fatty food as a snack before bed is especially problematic, as it takes a long time to digest these products. This requires more of the body’s energy and prevents the brain from relaxing into sleep. Consuming junk foods can also interfere with your circadian rhythm and, as a result, you may find yourself hungrier during the night.

A 2018 study, published in the journal Sleep, found that poor-quality sleep, such as that associated with sleep apnea, increases the likelihood of junk food cravings. This in turn, increases the risk for health problems associated with sleep apnea such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Not only do junk foods contain a huge amount of calories and few nutrients, they also trigger cravings that encourage a higher caloric intake than needed. This results in weight gain, a major factor in developing and worsening sleep apnea. To improve sleep quality, try to avoid high-fat and sugary foods that prevent sleep including ice cream, pizza, chips, and candy at night.

4. Spicy Foods

Many sleep apnea patients suffer from gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which worsens at night. Spicy foods like hot chili peppers and hot sauces are high in acidity and can worsen symptoms of indigestion and acid reflux when you lie down. If you have both GER and OSA, these spicy foods can prevent sleep by increasing your GER symptoms and sleep apnea events.

Spicy foods can worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which could keep you awake and uncomfortable throughout the night in addition to your sleep apnea. Chili peppers also raise your internal body temperature, which is the opposite of what you need for a good night’s rest.

Best Foods for Sleep Apnea

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains like rice, oats, and quinoa are high in fiber and nutrients. They can keep you feeling full for long periods of time, so you are less inclined to snack before bed. Whole grains also contain complex carbohydrates, which through the production of insulin, facilitates the release of tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin and melatonin. This can help you fall and stay asleep.

If you feel hungry before bedtime, snack on a few whole-grain crackers or eat a small bowl of warm sugar-free oatmeal. This can help you relax, feel sleepier, and avoid unnecessary weight gain that can aggravate sleep apnea symptoms.

6. Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and nutrients and contribute to weight loss, which can help improve sleep apnea symptoms in those who may be overweight. Fruits such as cherries are also high in melatonin, which has been shown to aid sleep.

When choosing fruits and vegetables as a snack before bed, avoid those high in water content like watermelon and celery, as these can lead to increased urination and disturbance during the night.

Bananas can also increase mucus production and worsen breathing. The Mount Sinai Health System suggests eliminating mucus-producing foods from your diet, such as bananas, for at least two weeks to see if they improve symptoms of sleep apnea.

Understanding Nutrition and Sleep Apnea

Nutrition and sleep apnea go hand in hand. Choosing the right snack before bed can potentially help you benefit from improved sleep quality — especially if you’re suffering from other health issues. Ask your doctor for more information regarding eating-late-at-night effects on sleep apnea.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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