A poor night’s rest can set the stage for your whole day. Sure, you can limit screen time, get a white noise fan, and close your blackout curtains. But, that doesn’t always solve the problem for those who can’t sleep. Did you know what you eat before bed can be a deal-breaker for a solid night’s slumber? Certain foods can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule and leave you feeling groggy and fatigued instead of well-rested.
It’s not just your bedtime snack either. Some foods can cause poor sleep up to 6 hours after consuming them. So if you’re tired of sleepless nights, change up your diet and avoid these foods that can keep you up at night.
Can’t Sleep? Avoid These Foods
That nightcap may be doing more harm than good for your slumber. It’s a common misconception that a drink before bed helps you to sleep better. While a slight buzz can help you fall asleep faster, your sleep quality might suffer.
Alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle and the length of REM and Non-REM stages. REM is the restorative stage, while non-REM is the stages of lighter sleep. So while you fall asleep quickly, alcohol prevents you from spending enough time in deep restorative rest. Instead, you’ll spend more time in the lighter sleep stages.
Instead of a nightcap, try sipping on a mocktail or a cup of herbal tea.
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If your diet consists of a lot of burgers and steak, you might be sabotaging your sleep each night. In a study with over 1,300 older adults, researchers found that meat consumption of 128g per day is associated with decreased sleep time and poor quality sleep.
Why meat leads to a poor night’s rest isn’t 100% clear yet. One possibility is that a high protein diet can make it harder to synthesize melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep. Research suggests that a high protein diet decreases two of the amino acid precursors to melatonin, tryptophan and tyrosine. With less tryptophan and tyrosine, less melatonin is produced and your bedtime suffers.
There’s a bit of controversy between red versus white meat and sleep. Studies haven’t shown a significant difference between the two and sleep quality.
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Ever feel a sugar rush after eating a food high in added sugar? Eating excess sugar causes a quick spike n your blood sugar and insulin levels. This increases your energy available, but only for a short time. What shoots up must shoot down. You’ll feel tired and fatigued shortly after as blood sugar and insulin crash back down.
Too much added sugar is associated with poor sleep quality in women, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Apparently, pastries, cakes, and cookies don’t make the best nighttime snack. A balanced snack before bed will help slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream, interfering less with your sleep cycle. Skip the ice cream and opt for fruit and yogurt instead.
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That late-night run for hot wings might sound like a good idea at the time, but you’ll pay for it with a rough night’s rest. There are two reasons you’ll want to avoid spicy food before you hit the hay. First, spicy food is a common trigger for heartburn. Eating something spicy can irritate the stomach lining and also slow down the rate of digestion. Discomfort from this can make falling and staying asleep difficult.
As if that wasn’t enough, spicy foods also increase your body temperature. This rise in internal temperature can disrupt your natural sleep cycle. It’s better to enjoy something milder for your next bedtime snack.
Late-night pizza won’t be doing you any favors. High-fat foods like french fries and pizza won’t promote a good night’s rest. These foods take a long time for your body to digest and may interrupt your sleep rhythm.
Animal studies have shown that a high-fat diet increases the length of time spent in light, non-REM stages of sleep. This effect is likely related to the decrease in orexin, a brain chemical that helps to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Caffeine – Obvious But A Helpful Reminder for those who can’t sleep
What do coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate all have in common? They all contain varying amounts of caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. This is why it’s perfect for keeping you awake, alert, and focused. While you might appreciate the jolt of energy your morning coffee provides, it could be impacting your sleep.
There are a few ways caffeine can impact your slumber. Research has found that consuming caffeine before bed has the potential to delay your circadian rhythm by up to 40-minutes. Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock system that helps to regulate sleep and wakefulness.
If a good night’s rest is hard to come by, you might want to cut out your caffeine early in the day. Drinking caffeine up to 6 hours before bed can hurt sleep quality according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. If you toss and turn all night you might want to skip the 5 pm coffee stop on your way home or soda with dinner.
Bottom Line for Those Who Can’t Sleep
High fat or spicy foods, meat, sweet treats, and drinks containing caffeine or alcohol can all lead to poor sleep. Overall diet quality can lead to a better or worse night’s rest. But, you’ll want to be careful what you eat in the hours leading up to sleep.
Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian, freelance writer, and plant focused food blogger. She’s passionate about making plant focused eating accessible, fun, and delicious. In addition to geeking out over nutrition science, Kelsey is an herbal enthusiast and loves to experiment with homemade and natural alternatives in the home and spending time with her two small kiddos and husband.