How to Eat to Sleep on Business Travel

Neuroscientist Matthew Walker tells us that the best way to stay healthy is to sleep well, but business travel can wreak havoc with our sleep.

His research found that insufficient sleep compromises the immune system, disrupts blood sugar levels and increases our risk of accidents and injury.  It is also the most important lifestyle factor influencing whether or not we develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Scary stuff, considering that business travel can involve swapping time zones, overnight travel and sleeping in unfamiliar environments.  We can’t control many of these variables, but we can control what we eat. 

Food and Drinks that Keep Us Awake

Large meals before going to bed

Our body likes to be upright to digest, especially if the meal is heavy.  Gravity needs to be on our side.  Heartburn and gastric reflux are more likely occurrences if we are horizontal when digesting. If we have to eat late, then light, easily digested food works best – a salad, fish, plenty of vegetables.


If we drink alcohol before going to bed, we are likely to fall asleep quickly and deeply.  We then spend more time in this deep sleep stage and less time in the more restful Rapid Eye Movement stage, which leaves us feeling tired.

Caffeine and stimulants

Caffeinated drinks are best avoided for four hours before trying to sleep.  There is a vast difference between the caffeine content of a cup of weak tea (about 50mg) and a strong brewed coffee (over 200mg), caffeinated soda drinks can have around 80mg and a bar of dark chocolate has around 60mg (milk chocolate has less than half the amount).  Our sensitivity to caffeine is very personal, people accustomed to large doses of caffeine will notice little impact from a few chocolates, while some of us will be kept awake for hours.

Foods to Induce Slumber

Milky drinks

A milky drink (not coffee) is still thought to be a good way to relax and fall asleep.


Bananas contain tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps us relax. Just remember to clean teeth after bedtime eating!

Foods containing B vitamins

Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 and B complex vitamins.  Marmite and Low Salt Vegemite have lots of vitamin B12 which is associated with reduced stress and anxiety. Some malted milk drinks also have these vitamins added.


Try a good green salad with dinner, quickly followed by bed.  Beatrix Potter had her bunnies falling asleep after eating the garden lettuces and even the Romans were convinced of the soporific effect of lettuce.

Further recommendations to aid sleep include keeping the environment dark, cool and peaceful with plenty of fresh air.  This obviously isn’t possible on a flight, but ear plugs and an eye patch can go a long way to helping.  

Catching up with a siesta at the weekend is also good.

© 2019 Executive Travel Vitality

Author: Carol Sadler PhD
Carol is a Nutrition Consultant. She counsels in diet and lifestyle change at Surrey Cardiovascular Clinic where clients have been referred by the clinic cardiologists. Prior to this Carol worked in private practice in Dubai for nine years, where she had various media engagements including Emirates Radio 2 Lifestyle Show monthly ‘phone-in’ on nutrition topics; Gulf News Friday Magazine (weekend supplement) monthly nutrition letter answered; City7 TV appearances on Breakfast Television and Lifestyle Show commenting on nutrition topics. Contributions to local magazines, and organizations, eg Rheumatoid Arthritis Group, Grazia Magazine, Living in the Gulf magazine. She continues to write nutrition articles and blogs, recently writing for Reader’s Digest, and HASTE Academy heart health charity and provides talks on diet issues. Carol is a member of The Nutrition Society, a Registered Nutritionist at the Association for Nutrition, Registration No. 912 and a member of SENSE (self employed consultant Nutritionists group for professional development).

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