As it turns out, what you’re putting on your plate during the day may be the cause of your nighttime woes.
So, before you reach for an over-the-counter sleep aid medication, have you considered what you’re putting into your body? The foods we eat, and when we eat them, have a strong influence on our ability to get a good night’s rest.
While medical sleep aids can help in the short-term, in the long run, they put you at risk for developing a dependence on them, and rising tolerance requires higher and higher doses to have the same effect.
Furthermore, these medications do not promote good quality sleep and can come along with some pretty hefty side effects such as dizziness, daytime drowsiness, and nausea. Most importantly, they do not address the underlying cause of your sleep problems! 1
In general, to not negatively impact your sleep you should avoid large late-night meals: Instead, eat your biggest meal at lunch time. Also, try not to eat within two hours of your bedtime.
In addition to these guidelines, there are foods which are known sleep-stealers which you should avoid in order to ensure you’re getting the rest you need.
12 Foods That Are Keeping You Up At Night
Caffeine is well-known for its stimulating effects, but the way our body processes this compound causes it to stay in our system for much longer than most of us realize.
The half-life of caffeine is 5 hours: Which means that 10 hours after enjoying your latte 25% of that caffeine remains active, and 20 hours later there’s still 12.5% left over 3… I think you get where I’m going with this.
Even decaf coffee contains enough caffeine to disrupt sleep if you drink it in the evening.
Alternative: Instead of coffee with dessert, opt for an herbal tea. A chamomile is a great option as not only is it perfect for relaxation and inducing sleep, but can also calm an upset stomach.
Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but research has shown that the quality of sleep you get while under the influence is less than ideal.
While slow-wave sleep is increased during the first half of the night, alcohol is associated with more sleep disruptions and awakenings during the second half. 4
Alternative: Put down your evening glass of red wine and try some tart cherry juice. Cherry juice is a natural source of the sleep hormone melatonin, and drinking two glasses a day can increase your time spent sleeping by 90 minutes. 5
3. Ice Cream
High in both fat and sugar content, ice cream — while a comforting late-night indulgence — is not an ideal evening treat.
Eating foods high in fat before bed can lead to disrupted sleep, and resulting daytime sleepiness. 6 Meanwhile, the excess sugar causes a spike in blood sugar increasing alertness, and has been associated with nightmares.
Alternative: Instead go for a low-fat, naturally sweetened yogurt. All dairy products contain tryptophan: the building blocks for serotonin and calcium has known sleep-inducing effects. Additionally, the probiotics in yogurt promote healthy digestion. 7
4. Red Meat
The high amounts of protein and fat in red meat slows down your digestion: As your body works hard to break down your meal, you’ll find it particularly difficult to relax and fall asleep. 8
Additionally, red meat contains tyrosine, which stimulates the production of cortisol — the stress hormone; and the high iron content provides an energy boost that’s unwanted at bedtime. 9
Alternative: Choose a fish as your main protein at dinner time. Salmon, cod, tuna and halibut are all excellent sources of vitamin B6 which increases the production of sleep hormones. 10
5. Hot Sauce
Eating spicy foods too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and acid reflux, which we can all agree makes falling asleep difficult.
However, even if you’re able to enjoy your hot wings without experiencing any stomach upset, research has shown that by raising your body’s temperature, spicy food is associated with a longer time spent falling asleep, and more time spent awake at night. 11
Alternative: You can still enjoy your spicy foods earlier in the day to give your body ample time to recover.
6. Tomato Sauce
A weekly dinner staple for many of us, tomato sauce in the evening may contribute to acid reflux and indigestion due to the high level of acidity. 12
Alternative: The basil in pesto has a proven calming effect on the body. 13
Sugary treats cause your blood sugar to spike, followed by a sharp drop as the body releases insulin to bring things back to normal. While this drop in blood sugar may help you fall asleep initially, the fluctuations in blood sugar can cause sleep disturbances. 14
Alternative: If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, go with honey instead. The natural sweetener will not raise your blood sugar as high, and it improves tryptophans ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. 15
While an excellent option nutrition wise, the slow-to-digest fiber in broccoli and its cousins cauliflower and brussel sprouts puts your digestive system to work. This family of veggies also contain an indigestible sugar which causes the body to produce gas and may cause bloating. 16
Alternative: Kale is a dark, leafy green that is high in folate and calcium: both of which promote sleep. 17
9. Dark Chocolate
Packed with antioxidants, dark chocolate can definitely make an appearance in a healthy diet. However, it’s also a sneaky source of caffeine which — if you’re particularly sensitive — can keep you up at night. Additionally, it contains theobromine, a compound which has similar effects to caffeine. 18
Alternative: White chocolate is an equally delicious treat, but doesn’t contain theobromine and little to no caffeine.19
10. Aged Cheese
Aged cheeses contain tyramine, an amino acid which promotes the release of norepinephrine — a brain stimulant which can lead to you being up all night. 20
Alternative: Not all cheeses make for a bad bedtime snack: Cottage cheese contains the protein casein which will keep hunger cravings at bay, while the tryptophan increases sleepiness. 21
11. Citrus Fruit
While the high acidity of citrus fruits may cause heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion, 22 this is not the only reason to avoid them late at night: Just the scent of lemon and other citrus fruits can raise mental alertness, making it harder to fall asleep. 23
Alternative: Bananas are a fantastic source of potassium and magnesium: these minerals act as muscle relaxants, making it easier for you to get comfortable at night. Additionally, bananas contain both tryptophan and melatonin to help induce sleep. 24
Beans are yet another common source of indigestion and heartburn. They’re also well-known for their bloating and gas-producing effects. 25
Choose a natural approach to your sleep problems.
By swapping out sleep-stealing foods with their healthy, sleep-inducing alternatives you can significantly improve the quality of sleep: Reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and increasing the time spent in deep sleep during the night.