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The question: I don't sleep well during the night. Can certain foods affect my sleep?

The answer: It is possible that your diet, especially the foods you eat in the evening, can be preventing you from sleeping soundly.

The first thing to consider is your caffeine intake. Too much caffeine can overstimulate your nervous system, making you feel wired and unable to fall asleep. Caffeine can also block the brain's production of a sleep-inducing chemical called adenosine.

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I suggest you cut caffeine completely from your diet for two weeks to see if that helps. Switch to decaf coffee, decaf or weakly brewed tea, or herbal tea. But don't go cold turkey. Cut back gradually, over a period of three weeks, to prevent withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and muscle aches.

Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. Avoid alcohol for a few weeks to see if your sleep improves. If you do drink, limit your intake to one alcoholic drink per day (equal to five ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of spirits or 12 ounces of beer), taken with a meal.

You'll sleep better if you eat your evening meal at least three hours before bedtime, and if you keep it light. People experience more sleep disruptions when they eat a fatty dinner compared to a low-fat one.

Keep your meal simple and clean: Have lean protein (like white fish, chicken breast or beef or pork tenderloin) paired with vegetables and either whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice) or sweet potato. If you have heartburn, avoid spicy foods as well.

You might also try eating a small carbohydrate-rich snack 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed. Snacks like a glass of milk, a slice of toast with jam or a banana help facilitate the brain's production of serotonin, a chemical that promotes sleep.

If your sleep is disrupted because you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, stop drinking fluids two hours before bedtime.

Sleep apnea can also be a cause of poor sleep. It occurs when your upper airway gets completely or partially blocked during sleep, reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the lungs. This causes you to wake up in order to breath properly.

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If you have sleep apnea, losing excess weight – as little as 10 per cent of your body weight – can help, because fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct breathing during sleep.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel'sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com).

Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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