Lying awake at night resenting the clock as the hours tick by, or carefully avoiding looking at your alarm clock as you wake up time and time again?
If you’re unable to fall asleep or you tend to awaken frequently, you might want to look at your list of favorite snacks—there are plenty of foods that keep you awake at night. Read on to learn about the foods to avoid eating late in the day so you can catch some solid shuteye at night.
Foods that keep you awake at night
It may be tempting to order that chocolate cake dessert when you’re out for dinner, but lay off the sweets just before bedtime. You’ve probably heard of a sugar high—well, there’s science behind the phrase. When we consume high amounts of sugar, it can cause our blood sugar levels to spike. Our body then releases insulin, which allows glucose to enter the cells in order to be used for energy. But energy is the last thing we need when we’re trying to fall asleep.
In fact, a Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study found that high sugar intake, in addition to low fiber and high saturated fat, is linked to lighter, less restorative sleep and more frequent night awakenings.
“Sugar also contributes to inflammation within the body, and that has also been related to insomnia, poor sleep, poor quality sleep, and sleeping difficulty,” says Emily Hudak, a licensed associate counselor and certified holistic health coach.
Too much sugar can have adverse health effects in general, so try to avoid the sugary breakfast cereals, candy, cookies, and other sweet treats if you want to sleep better and be healthier overall.
Caffeinated foods and beverages
In addition to containing sugar, Hudak also points out that chocolate contains caffeine, something else to be avoided in the hours before you go to sleep. Caffeine acts as a stimulant that can make us alert and keep us awake at night if we have it too close to bedtime. In fact, the effects of caffeine can last anywhere from four to six hours, so be sure to abstain from substantial caffeine consumption at least six hours before going to sleep.
Coffee may be the most obvious caffeine culprit, but you should also avoid green tea, energy drinks, and soda if you want to get a good night’s sleep. If you really want to rest easier, replace those beverages with water. Staying well-hydrated throughout the day will help improve your sleep quality, too!
Many people think alcohol works as a sedative that helps us sleep better. “Maybe initially you feel a kind of drowsiness, and you do feel like you’re underneath the effects of that depressant,” says Hudak. “But really, your sleep is going to be disrupted by the consumption of alcohol,” she explains.
Even if alcohol consumption helps you get to sleep initially, research shows it will lead to poorer quality sleep throughout the night. Long-term alcohol abuse is also associated with major sleep issues. If you plan to drink at dinner time, do so in moderation and try to plan for an early dinner.
If we’re busy, it can be tempting to just go through a drive-thru and grab dinner on the go. But you should avoid ordering that slice of pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries, and other fatty foods if you’re trying to improve your sleep quality.
“When we’re eating high carb, high fat foods, it takes longer to digest,” says Hudak. If your body is still working to digest your food at bedtime, it could interfere with your sleep quality.
Not only can these foods lead to poorer quality sleep, they are also bad for your overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, foods like frozen pizza, French fries, and fried chicken contain trans fats, which can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and type 2 diabetes.
We understand that sometimes you want to spice things up and add some flavor to your dishes. But you should probably avoid the spice later in the day when you’re winding down. “It can cause some discomfort or irritation in our stomach, in our gastrointestinal tract,” explains Hudak.
Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends avoiding spicy foods within three hours of bedtime. It’s also recommended that you avoid tomato sauce and other acidic foods that could give you heartburn or cause indigestion. As a general rule of thumb, Hudak recommends trying to avoid food consumption in the two to three hour window before you go to bed.
Additionally, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends avoiding high-protein foods, such as beef and chicken, which can take a long time to digest. You may also want to skip out on the cheese plate or charcuterie board at dinner. Certain cold cuts, such as pepperoni and salami, and aged or processed cheeses, contain tyramine, which causes the release of norepinephrine, a hormone that can make us feel more alert and therefore, affect our sleep-wake cycle.
General food rules for a good night’s sleep
Avoid certain foods
While you don’t necessarily have to memorize the above list, you should certainly keep in mind that certain types of foods are likely to keep you up at night. For instance, foods that are high fat, high sugar, acidic, or contain caffeine should all be avoided before bedtime.
Have an early dinner
You should give your body some time to digest your food before going to bed. If you plan to stop eating at least three hours before going to sleep, your body should have ample time to digest your food so you can have uninterrupted sleep. If you eat a nutritious meal, you should also be able to avoid getting those late night munchies before going to bed.
Eat the right pre-bedtime snacks
But what about if you do get hungry before you head to bed? Well, don’t just reach for anything in your pantry or fridge. Instead, stock up on some healthy pre-bedtime snacks. “Foods high in magnesium and zinc have been found to be really supportive in sleep,” says Hudak. Dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and legumes are some of Hudak’s favorite options.
Eat a well-balanced diet
A healthy diet will help support better sleep overall. Try to be conscious about what you’re putting into your body not just at night, but throughout the day as well. “I think what’s most valuable in terms of supporting our sleep is just consuming a well-balanced diet, and that means whole, real foods,” says Hudak. “Along with diverse and essential vitamins, nutrients, minerals. That’s simply because it overall best supports our physiology, and it overall best supports our wellness,” she adds.
Meal prepping is a good way to thoughtfully plan out what you’re going to eat throughout the week so you’re not tempted to grab just anything that satisfies your cravings.
The Last Word from Sleepopolis
Good nutrition combined with regular exercise and healthy sleep habits can help us improve our quality of sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try to incorporate healthy, nutritious meals into your diet and avoid foods that your body may have trouble digesting late in the day or that are known to cause disruptive sleep. Eating better may be just what you need to sleep better and feel better, too.
Brooke Williams graduated with her Master’s from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. She enjoys writing on a range of topics from health and wellness to finance. She also graduated from Florida State University and spends her spare time watching Seminoles football.