9 Foods to Avoid Close to Bedtime

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Sleepless nights are frustrating as well as mentally and physically exhausting.  Fortunately, the problem is unnecessary and easily correctable for the majority of people in the US. Typically, merely minor adjustments in eating habits, or other small lifestyle changes, or a combination of such little changes can resolve the majority of sleep deficiency issues.

So, knowing what to eat and what not to eat gives you a great advantage toward achieving consistently restful sleep. Below are listed some common foods which have been associated with difficulty sleeping, explanations of issues these are believed by medical experts to cause or worsen, and recommended alternative foods.

1. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains caffeine. Especially, avoid eating anything with caffeine late in the day. (Some gums and other consumables are surprising sources of caffeine.) Individuals each metabolize caffeine to  some extent differently, based on genetic differences. But, generally, research indicates that caffeine should be avoided by the majority of people who are experiencing difficulty sleeping.

Alternative: Have a handful of almonds to substitute for chocolate, if you need a snack before going to bed. Or, try a little almond butter on toast. Almonds are packed with protein. They also provide magnesium. And, they contain magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation and sleep.

2. Tea, Coffee, Hot Coco

Minimize caffeine consumption, especially during late afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant, and as it is so widely and frequently consumed across the US American population, it is a notoriously  common contributor to fragmented sleep and other sleep difficulties. Decaffeinated coffee is a much better choice in the evening, but still is likely to contain several percent caffeine, which is permitted in decaf by the FDA.

Alternative: Try green tea as a coffee substitute. Green tea contains theanine, a sleep promoter. In fact, any of the many varieties of decaffeinated tea, especially mild-flavored types, can help promote relaxation enough to lend to drowsiness. Though decaf teas are likely to contain a small percentage of caffeine, it’s typically less than in decaf coffee. And, green tea contains a comparatively very small amount.

3. Chicken or Beef

Eating large amounts of meat, or eating meat too close to bedtime can force your attempt to fall to sleep to compete with your digestive system’s efforts to digest protein-dense meat. Digestion slows down significantly during sleep. So, instead of allowing you to sleep, your body may keep you awake as it works to digest meat.

Alternative: Almonds provide an excellent source of protein and promote sleep. Almonds even may reduce acid reflux, which can be an important benefit in minimizing painful episodes that prevent sleep for many people. If you must eat something more substantial in the evening, limit yourself to a hard boiled egg, or a couple of thin slices of cheese or lean meat. Or, try a small amount of cottage cheese mixed with a little fresh fruit.

4. Broccoli

Broccoli is, of course, a generally very nutritious, healthful food. However it is a high-fiber food, which means it digests very slowly. It also contains an non-digestible sugar, which generates a significant amount of gas. And gas bloating can cause digestive pain that is disruptive to sleep.

Alternative: If you need to eat vegetables just before bedtime, try a half cup of brown rice or soy beans. These are filling, but not excessively. They’re less gas-producing, and are both sources of tryptophan.

5. Soda

Carbonated soda presents a significant potential detriment to sleep, not only due to its caffeine content. The citric acid and sodium benzoate used in many soda products can increase the acidity in your stomach, triggering heartburn and acid reflux.

Alternative: Choose a glass of warm milk, or cold milk, if necessary to your taste. This comfort food is packed with tryptophan, the amino acid which converts to melatonin and serotonin in the brain, inducing sleep. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, promotes relaxation. And, Melatonin, a chemical, promotes sleep. (Tryptophan takes about an hour to reach the brain.)

Milk is also a very good source of calcium, which facilitates regulation of melatonin production. In fact, experts recommend having a glass of milk to help you go to sleep, and even getting out of bed to have a glass during the night, if you’re having trouble staying asleep.

6. Citrus Fruits

Eating highly-acidic citrus fruits, such as pineapple or oranges before going to bed may cause stomach upset that can disrupt sleep, and can be a more painful problem for people with acid reflux.

Alternative: Have some cherries. Cherries are reportedly the only natural botanical source of melatonin. Try some dried cherries, if fresh ones are not available. Or, enjoy a banana. The magnesium and potassium in bananas are nutrients that also serve as natural muscle relaxers. They also contain tryptophan, with its natural properties of sedation.

7. Alcohol

Having a night cap or two may help you fall to sleep. However, experts say that the sleep you have after drinking alcohol soon before going to bed is of a poor quality. Alcohol is a major detriment to sound sleep later during the night, causing frequent disruptions when its effects wear off. These disruptions reduce the potential for a sufficient number of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phases, which are essential sleep stages for restful sleep.

Alternative: At the least, make a start toward phasing out your evening ritual of drinking alcohol to relax. Reduce your consumption to just a moderate amount of alcohol, two drinks maximum for a man, one for a woman.

8. Spicy Foods (Hot Wings, Chili, Spicy Meatballs, etc.)

Spicy food can cause severe heartburn pain, which can prevent or interrupt sleep. For some heartburn sufferers, medication may be less than fully effective against the extremes of agitation that spicy foods may trigger. It may become necessary for some people to sleep in an unnatural semi-upright, or other uncomfortable position to guard against acid reflux after eating spicy food prior to bedtime, which can be very disruptive to sound sleep.

Alternative: Choose only very mild foods with minimal spices, if you must eat prior to going to bed. Try a few baked wings, or a cup of chicken soup, or couple of thin slices of plain or lightly salted meat.

9. Hamburgers and Fries

Any high-fat foods can cause you to feel tired, due to their property of reducing oxygen flow to the brain. However, research indicates that people who eat heavy, fatty foods in the evening tend to sleep for a fewer number of total hours during the night than those who do not eat those kinds of foods.

For people with acid reflux, eating foods high in fat and calories, especially later in the day, within three hours of going to bed, can severely worsen heartburn and indigestion, and can cause you to experience too much discomfort to sleep.

Alternative: If you must eat within three hours of bedtime, choose non-greasy alternatives to popular deep fried snacks, such as a small portion of steamed vegetables. And, if you must eat meat during this time, try a half portion of lean, broiled meat only lightly seasoned. Or, just have a glass of milk, for whole nutrition in a comfort food that promotes sleep. Milk is the ideal all-purpose, pre-bedtime food.

Additional Recommendations

Other helpful points to help you be aware of anything you might consume that has potential to prevent or interfere with your restful sleep include the following.

Caffeine in medications: Some medications, including over-the-counter medications contain quite large dosages of caffeine, which is utilized by drug manufacturers as a pain-killing accelerant to facilitate other pain-killing agents. So, if you are frequently having difficulty sleeping, check all of your medications for caffeine content. Some medications also may cause heartburn, which can prevent or interrupt sleep.

Ask your pharmacist about recommended substitutes for nonprescription medications containing caffeine. And, ask your doctor about possible acceptable substitutes for any prescriptions that may be contributing to your sleep problem. IMPORTANT: Tell your doctor about all nonprescription drugs and herbal remedies you are using in combination with your prescription drugs, to ensure against adverse drug interactions.