eating to fall asleep
September 29, 2009 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I have a new, strange work schedule, and my eating habits are making my sleep schedule go haywire. When and what should a person eat if they work from 3 pm to 10 pm, and want to be awake around 7 or 8?

After a month of this new job, my sleep schedule is terrible. After arriving home at 10:30, I usually cook a fairly complicated dinner (I like to cook) and then catch up on TV shows, internet, etc. For the past two weeks I've been unable to fall asleep before 5 or 6 am. Consequently, I wake up around noon or 1, eat something light like yogurt or fruit or cereal, and head to work. 3 days a week I have a break around 6 pm and about half the time I'm famished and get a quick dinner (I'm in Korea-- so pork chop or noodles or rice). But even in those cases, I'm still hungry late at night so end up having two dinners. Other times I really crave sugar at night. I suspect that having such late meals has made it difficult to fall asleep. Before this I was on a regular schedule of dinner at 5 or 6, maybe a small snack later at night, and sleep whenever I wanted to between 12-2 am.

Ideally, I would wake up at 7 or 8, drink half a smoothie or something, go for a run, drink the other half, then prepare an elaborate and interesting lunch to be eaten around 1 or 2. However, what and when should I eat between 2 pm and my ideal sleeptime, 1 am, so that I'm able to fall asleep? I could snack at work, but I only have 5 minutes here or there and I've never seen anyone eat at work so I'd want it to be quick and discreet.

I can't really afford nuts or cheese (except ricotta and other homemade stuff) but yogurt and fruit are ok. I have a stove, grill pan, and blender and am a pretty good cook (and have a lot of time to do so). I am sort of a foodie and only eat meat a few times a week.

This question suggested quitting the computer 2 hours before bedtime and this question had some other suggestions about sleeping earlier. So I'm mostly interested in the connection between food and sleep. Thank you!
posted by acidic to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read the various articles suggesting that you stop eating 12-16 hours before you want to wake up, and after waking up, eat a full breakfast? I've been doing it for the past couple weeks and it doesn't seem to work very well for me personally (although I've never tried to stop eating more than 12 hours in advance) in terms of getting me up in the morning, but I have noticed that I fall asleep more quickly and tend to eat less at lunch and dinner, which is generally a good thing. Here's a link.
posted by pravit at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2009

"People" are all different, but the single big change you might try is to make your complicated and time-consuming dinner as a pre-work lunch. It might also "wake up your brain" enough for work.

(I don't enjoy breakfast, usually, but sometimes I like to cook a big one, even if it's just for other people in the house, because the activity/thinking makes me more alert and awake.)

Healthier to eat the big meal earlier, anyway, I'd imagine, since a large meal before bed isn't usually a good idea.
posted by rokusan at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2009

Working second shift is always a nightmare.

The main problem with you trying to schedule yourself on days when you're not working days is that by the end of the workday, you'll be exhausted and not as effective.

Switching your internal natural clock is difficult, especially when you're talking about night and day issues. Travel and jet lag are not the same thing as time of day. Light has everything to with how your body responds to time. What is happening is that you're body is actually craving more sunlight and isn't getting it. I used to live in Alaska and this was a common problem in the winter.

The best way I was able to handle it (I'm a nurse) was simply getting up and staying up in the morning. This helps balance out the light issue, but you will get tired. If I were you, I'd plan on sleeping in until at least 10:00 rather than so early. This gives you some wind-down time when you get home at night too.

As for eating, just pick your schedule and stick with it. It just takes time. Sometimes a couple of weeks up to about a month.

As for the 12-16 hours trick, some swear by it but in my experience it never has made any difference for me.

Good luck!
posted by magnoliasouth at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2009

When I worked an afternoon shift, I found that getting up at 10:00 am worked well. I ate a decent lunch during working hours, and take-out or nutricious stuff I had at home after work, but relaxed/watched tv/partied for a while after my shift was over. Heavy cooking as reserved for weekends and provided left-overs I could graze on for several days. I'm not much of a breakfast eater, so coffee was breakfast, and I still had time to run errands before work. That schedule was perfect for me, much better than working 6 am to 3 pm, so YMMV.
posted by path at 5:52 PM on September 29, 2009

When I worked/work 3-11 I get up around 10 or 11, have a light breakfast, and a small snack right before work. I pack a lunch to eat while I'm at work (either leftovers or a normal lunch: sandwich, pretzels/chips, soda, applesauce, and a granola bar) I have a small dinner when I get off work, something like a grilled cheese or spaghetti or leftovers. I'm usually in bed by about 1 or 2AM.

One thing that I have been recently doing is limiting my caffeine intake before bed. When I work 3-11 I only have one cup of coffee, which is usually gone by around 7, then it's Caffeine Free Diet Coke and water for the rest of the night. Sure, I'm dead tired by the time I get home, but that's exactly what I want!

Good luck! When I worked second shift exclusively, I woke up around 1:30PM and would usually go to bed around 3 or 4AM.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:33 PM on September 29, 2009

You should probably eat a big breakfast, big lunch, and just snack while at work. Don't eat before bed.

Try to go to bed within an hour after getting home from work.

If your ideal sleeptime is 1am, then I very much doubt your ideal awake time is 7am. That's only six hours of sleep. Unless you're a naturally short sleeper, you may want to consider waking later, or getting a nap in before work.

I've noticed that I feel hungrier (and obviously more tired) when I am sleep-deprived, likely because my body requires more energy to stay awake longer.
posted by Ouisch at 8:18 PM on September 29, 2009

I worked 1:00PM-9:00/10:00PM for years, and this is what I typically did:

Woke up around 9 or 10 (oh, those were the days...), and had a decent-sized breakfast - eggs and toast, or oatmeal and fruit. I would typically have my biggest meal anytime between 2 and 4, depending on my schedule. This was almost always some unhealthy takeout, but you could substitute a lunch you bring from home. Then I typically had a fairly light dinner when I got home or went out after work. (Um, and then I usually drank between 2 and too many drinks, but that was a function of being young and resilient)

I was not a big cook at the time, probably partly because of the schedule, but I would typically make something big to have for leftovers at least once over the weekend, and then possibly one night after work. If I'd been ambitious enough, I would have cooked lunch after breakfast.

Anyway, this eating schedule worked very well for me. I never really had problems with insomnia during these years, but I had a fairly exhausting job at the time, so I may have just been sufficiently tuckered out.
posted by lunasol at 12:18 AM on September 30, 2009

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