Sleep expert-approved food: your Christmas menu, sorted
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The festive season is a time for family and friends, a time for indulgence and a time for cheer. And there’s no better way to jingle-all-the-way than getting together to share good food!
Christmas lunch is arguably the best meal you’ll have all year. But that post-lunch energy dip could turn your festive feelings into fatigue and tiredness – and who wants to miss out on all the fun?
Luckily, we’ve compiled a quick guide to festive foods – those that make you snooze, and others that keep you awake. And as an early Christmas gift, we’ve put together the perfect lunch menu to avoid that zombie feeling after eating. So tuck in!
3 Foods that keep you awake
Some foods may not be your friends when you want to fall asleep, but if you are trying to stay awake, they can be very helpful.
1. Coffee and chocolate
Caffeine is a go-to for those who want to stay awake, but did you know that it is not only found in coffee and energy drinks but also in chocolate? A delicious cup of coffee and a few blocks of dark chocolate at the end of your meal can give you a caffeine boost that can reduce post-meal fatigue.
Dark chocolate also contains theobromine, which is a compound that causes your heart rate to increase. This can make you feel more awake as a result.
A spicy meal can keep you awake. That is because chilli contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that increases your body temperature. If your body temperature is too high, it will make it hard for you to go to sleep.
3. Aged cheese, cured meats and tomatoes
Tomatoes, aged cheese and cured meats contain tyramine. When you consume it, it triggers your brain to release the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. It makes you feel more alert, boosts brain activity and makes it harder to sleep.
3. Food that makes you sleepy
What are some foods that can make you sleepy if you add them to the Christmas menu?
1. Tryptophan-rich foods like turkey
Most people go straight to blaming the amino acid, tryptophan, in their Christmas turkey for the post-lunch dip. Yes, tryptophan does help you relax and go to sleep, but if consuming tryptophan alone had that big of an effect on how tired you felt, you would feel tired after every protein-rich meal.
The truth is that it is the combination of party snacks, large meals, tryptophan-rich foods, carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol that makes you feel tired. Without carbs, tryptophan has a harder time reaching your brain because it competes with other amino acids (and often loses).
The easiest way to manage how much tryptophan you consume on Christmas day is to manage your portion sizes. If you eat a 300g serving of turkey instead of 150g, for example, that’s double the tryptophan.
2. Sugar and carbohydrates
Other than increasing how much tryptophan you absorb, sugar and high glycaemic carbohydrates can cause blood sugar spikes, which then lead to blood sugar crashes, making you feel tired.
When we say that having a lot of carbohydrates will make you sleepy, it doesn’t mean that you cannot have any carbohydrates at all on Christmas day. Just reduce the number of carbohydrate sources or reduce your portion sizes.
Toasting to the holidays with an alcoholic beverage is tradition around the world. But alcohol is arguably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to things that can make you feel sleepy.
Alcohol has a sedative effect on the body and can make you feel drowsy, triggering the desire for a nap. It can also make it hard for you to notice when you feel full, making it easier to overeat and slip into a food coma.
Menu: Christmas breakfast
If intermittent fasting is not your thing and you want to have breakfast on Christmas day, here is what we recommend:
Breakfast bacon and egg muffins (makes 6)
- 12 slices of bacon
- 8 eggs
- ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C and coat the muffin pan with butter, non-stick spray or if you prefer, use paper cups. Whisk the eggs, salt, pepper and cheese together. Dice the bacon and divide evenly into the muffin cups (if you want your bacon crispier, you can fry it first). Fill each muffin cup with the egg mixture and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes.
When they are done, pair them with a few slices of avocado.
Menu: Christmas lunch
Here is an example of a carb-clever Christmas lunch menu you can follow:
- Roast lamb, turkey or beef (they all contain tryptophan, so you might as well choose the type of meat you love most)
- Baked mushrooms with parmesan cheese on the side
- Carrots with butter and cinnamon (delicious, sweet, and smells like Christmas)
- Roast potatoes (optional, but know that the carbs might make you feel a little more fatigued)
And what about dessert? What about pumpkin pie?
You can still have your pumpkin pie, but just make a lower carb version so you don’t get a big insulin spike that can lead to fatigue. You get to satisfy your sweet tooth but get fewer carbs by ditching the crust and using almond flour instead of regular flour.
It is also great for any family members that have gluten allergies and can’t eat desserts made with regular flour. And seeing as grains can cause gut inflammation and bloating, going for a grain-free dessert like our crustless pumpkin pie will not make you feel as lethargic after eating.
Crustless pumpkin pie (makes 6)
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ¾ cup coconut sugar
- 4 eggs
- ¾ cup almond flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 cup milk, any kind
- 2 cups pumpkin or butternut, cooked and pureed
- 1 tsp cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
Preheat oven to 180 ̊C. Now, sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside. Next, cream the butter and coconut sugar together in a separate bowl. Whisk the butternut and pumpkin puree and add the eggs, one at a time while beating the mixture.
Add the almond flour and baking powder, and keep mixing until all of the ingredients have been combined and you have a smooth batter.
Pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish, and then just lightly dust it with a little bit of sweetener and cinnamon. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pie is firm and has a golden colour.
When ready, dust a little extra cinnamon over the top for an extra Christmas touch.
You can finish off the meal with a cup of coffee and a piece of dark chocolate for a little caffeine boost.
At night, you can indulge in some treats that make you sleepy, like tryptophan-rich eggnog. Chances are, you will not want to eat a lot after your big lunch, but a nightcap is a light and delicious way to end an incredible Christmas day.
You can also have some warm milk, herbal tea, golden milk or chai tea.
Bonus tips for preventing fatigue:
A post-meal walk can do wonders and reduce post-meal fatigue. Moving around helps digestion after the big meal, which will make you feel less fatigued.
If you are up for it, you can even do some exercise before the meal. If you can deplete your glycogen stores in your muscles through resistance training or by running around, for example, then a lot of the carbohydrates you eat will go to your muscles to replenish your glycogen stores and less will be around to make you feel tired. Even just doing squats in the kitchen while you prepare food can make a big difference.
It’s the time of the year where we get to eat, drink and be merry. If you follow our advice, you can enjoy the holidays without feeling sleepy after eating and make the most of the time you have with family and friends.