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Sleep Expert Unwraps the Truth About Christmas Foods That Can Steal Your Silent Nights

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“Rethink reaching for those mince pies if you want to sleep well this Christmas,” is the advice from sleep specialist James Higgins this Christmas season. James, who is CEO of Ethical Bedding, the UK’s only BCorp-accredited sustainable bedding company, has delved deep into the Christmas fridge to find the top Christmas culprits that can cause more than just a full stomach.

From traditional turkey to mouth-watering gravy, James highlights the foods that Brits should enjoy in moderation this Christmas, no matter how tempting they may be. James Higgins comments, “Christmas is all about celebrating, and we all know food is a huge part of it.

“But often, this leads to poor sleep, leaving many of us too tired to fully enjoy the festivities. It’s not all bad news, though. The key is balance. Enjoy these foods, but in moderation, and you’ll see the difference in your sleep. This way, you can have a great time and still wake up feeling refreshed.”

Christmas pudding

“This traditional dessert is a staple on the Christmas dinner table; however, it is rich in sugars and fats, which can cause indigestion and disrupt sleep,” says James. “The high sugar content can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to energy surges and crashes.

“A good alternative is to cook your pudding from scratch instead of opting for store-bought versions. Use less sugar, whole grains, which increase the fibre content and aid digestion, incorporate nuts like almonds or walnuts, which are good sources of sleep-aiding magnesium, and add sleep-promoting spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.”

Brandy butter

“Often served with Christmas pudding, brandy butter is high in fat and sugar, plus the alcohol content in brandy could interfere with the sleep cycle, preventing deep, restful sleep. To make a sleep-friendly brandy butter, use low-fat cream cheese and a small amount of honey for natural sweetness instead of too much sugar.”

Mince pies

“Similar to Christmas pudding, mince pies are high in sugar and fat,” says James. “The rich, heavy pastry can be hard to digest, especially if eaten late at night, potentially causing discomfort and restlessness during sleep. “As with Christmas pudding, you can adapt the traditional recipe with some healthier modifications, such as using whole-grain pastry, reducing sugar, etc. You could even pair your treat with a nice herbal tea such as chamomile.”

Cheese board

“We all know the typical phrase, “Don’t eat cheese before bedtime, but do you know why?” asks James. “Cheese contains tyramine, an amino acid that can act as a brain stimulant, potentially making it harder to fall asleep.

“However, you don’t need to give up your cheese board completely. After all, there’s nothing better than curling up under a blanket, watching some Christmas movies, and enjoying a good cheese board. Simply opt for cheeses that are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin and melatonin. These include mozzarella, ricotta, Swiss cheese, and cottage cheese.”

Roast turkey

“While turkey contains tryptophan, which is associated with sleepiness, the high protein and fat content in roast meats can make them hard to digest, leading to discomfort at night,” says James. “That’s why it’s always best to opt for lean cuts and watch out for portion control, however tempting it may be!”

Alcohol

“Traditional Christmas drinks like mulled wine or spirits can disrupt sleep patterns. Alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but it often leads to less restful sleep and frequent awakenings during the night,” says James. “Stick to drinking in moderation or choose lower alcohol options such as Buck’s Fizz and stay hydrated throughout the day with plenty of water.”

Chocolate

“There’s nothing better than cracking open a tin of chocolates, but did you know that chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are both sleep-interfering stimulants?” says James. “I suggest staying clear of dark chocolate, which typically includes more caffeine than milk, or avoiding eating it late at night. It’s also beneficial to be mindful of other sources of caffeine that you are consuming throughout the day too, just to make sure you don’t overdo it.”

Rich gravies and sauces

“These are often high in fats and can cause indigestion, particularly if consumed in large quantities or late in the evening,” says James. “However, if you’re preparing the gravy yourself, you can lighten the recipe by making it with less butter and oil and incorporating herbs and spices to enhance the flavour without relying solely on fat.”

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