It is widely believed that the pressures of modern life are responsible for the higher prevalence of sleep deficits. Researchers, however, have identified a wide spectrum of behaviours associated with poor sleep. Their studies have provided evidence that late-night eating, for instance, is responsible for increased hunger and other deleterious health outcomes. By increasing activity in the brain, it is believed that vivid nightmares may also be linked to late-night eating habits.
The body’s circadian rhythm is one of the main controllers of the sleep/wake cycle, but there are other factors necessary for good sleep.
Creating a relaxing environment and avoiding exposure to electronic devices, for instance, are widely encouraged.
However, poor dietary habits can hinder these efforts by triggering night sweats and generating a surplus of heat.
These complications are often associated with eating large meals late at night, particularly ones rich in carbohydrates.
Hannah Shore, Sleep Expert at Silentnight, said: “Heavy meals too close to your bedtime (around two to three hours before) can affect your core body temperature.
“To improve sleep quality, we need our core body temperature to drop before bed, so […] keep this in mind when you’re considering a late-night meal.
“What’s more, eating a heavy meal before you sleep can increase the risk of nightmares, as it keeps our brain awake whilst trying to digest the food.”
For optimal health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting between seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
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In 2021, research published in the American Journal of Managed Care showed that increasing the eating interval before bedtime could shorten sleep durations.
The research found that eating before bedtime led to sleep with more awakenings, compromising the quality of sleep.
Frequent nighttime awakenings are detrimental as they carry their own set of complications including heart disease, depression and obesity.
WebMD states: “Sleep deprivation, which can be caused by nightmares, can cause a host of medical conditions, including heart disease, depression and obesity.”
Miss Shore added: “If nightmares are waking you up through the night, this will be affecting your overall sleep quality.
“An increase in waking could mean we are not getting enough of the good quality sleep we need.”
The expert explained that nightmares could also be brought on by the content you watch before bed.
She added: “In some instances, nightmares can be linked with a type of sleep disorder, called parasomnias, that would affect your overall sleep and could leave you feeling groggy through the day.
“These could be anything from nightmares, acting out dreams or sleepwalking that might need specialist help to control.”
Due to the significant impact nightmares have on a person’s quality of life, individuals who suffer from them regularly are encouraged to consult a medical professional.
Nightmares are more common in individuals battling depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Fortunately, there are several measures a doctor can implement to lessen the frequency of nightmares and the effect they have on a person’s life.
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