By Isadora Baum
You know those nights when you eat a piece of dark chocolate cake or scoop of ice cream for dessert and can’t seem to fall asleep? Or when you eat spicy foods, which can cause indigestion, acid reflux and heartburn and keeps you awake for hours? Well, that’s because what you eat before bed impacts your sleep quality.
Instead, you should enjoy foods that promote a good night’s sleep and that can raise your body’s melatonin and tryptophan levels naturally. Here are the worst foods to eat as a bedtime snack or even in the middle of night (yes, sometimes you wake up mid-sleep and need a snack).
“Similar to tomato sauce, oranges are acidic, and for those with acid reflux can cause discomfort if eaten close to when you’ll be lying down,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Save them to pair with breakfast or lunch, she says, rather than keep them for a bedtime snack. You will have trouble digesting it, despite oranges’ great health benefits, such as vitamin C to boost your immune system.
Go for lean roasted or grilled meat instead to sleep better at night, as cured meat can disrupt your quality of sleep. “Due to their high sodium content, cured meats can impact blood pressure for many individuals,” she says. “A spike in blood pressure before bed may cause some discomfort and restlessness while sleeping, and potentially even bad dreams,” she adds.
And avoid high-fat foods, which can also impact blood sugar levels and lead to bloating. To snooze better and catch those zzz’s, look for leaner cuts of meat, such as poultry and turkey, which has the amino acid tryptophan (a bonus). High-protein is okay, but make the preparation good for your health, such as using olive oil as a healthy fat and pairing with healthy carbs, like sweet potato. Your digestion system will thank you.
High-fat foods, such as a fast food burger and fries, is also high in sodium, which may lead to indigestion and a tummy ache, since food is sitting in your digestive tract too long, she explains. Plus, “as with cured meats, the high sodium may also impact blood pressure,” she adds. Most fast food isn’t really good for your health, anyway, but if you are eating fast food, eat it for breakfast or lunch, such as an egg white breakfast sandwich or a grilled chicken sandwich.
And to make it your sleep better? Get the grilled chicken inside a lettuce wrap instead to ditch the carbs, which can disrupt deep sleep. Bread is considered high-glycemic-index, and it can be high-sugar too, so be careful. If you do eat bread, go for whole-grain rather than white bread, which is refined and can lead to bloating and weight gain over time if consumed too frequently.
“Because of its high acid level, those who ever experience acid reflux or heartburn are at more risk of reflux issues once they lay down, and it’s easier for the acid to travel up the esophagus,” she says. It’s fine to include these foods at an earlier dinner, but try to avoid them about three hours before you lay down, she advises. Dealing with the pain of acid reflux will certainly make it harder to snooze.
Think again before having a cup of coffee before powering down for the night. Just because you think you can have espresso before bed and still sleep doesn’t mean you should. “While many people know they’re better off without caffeine after noon, those who consume it late and are still able to fall asleep may not be able to get into enough deep sleep cycles,” she says.
Similar to using alcohol to fall asleep, getting enough zzz’s doesn’t mean getting enough quality rest. And this goes for coffee flavored carbs, such as a coffee ice cream or a coffee dark chocolate bar. You might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night or struggling to fall asleep in the first place.
“Enjoying a treat with lunch, in the afternoon, or even with a balanced dinner is a much better option than choosing it right before bed on its own,” she says. “Since most candy is high-sugar, it can lead to a blood sugar spike, making you more alert than you’d like at bed time,” she explains. What comes after those spikes is often a crash, which for some people can cause anxiety and disrupt your REM sleep cycle. And when you’re anxious you’re going to find it challenging to get a good night’s sleep.