It’s not great to eat before sleep, as food can be stimulating and make you feel too full when you’re trying to comfortably snooze. However, it happens and sometimes the days are long and you end up eating dinner soon before bed or you might be hungry for a midnight snack. (And it’s better to eat a little something than to try and sleep with a growling belly!)
Some foods are downright energizing, and others can aggravate conditions like heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux,” explains Lisa Richards CNC, nutritionist and founder of The Candida Diet. Eating these foods around bedtime will make falling (and staying!) asleep difficult, she says. If you can’t sleep and can’t figure out why, cutting out sneaky foods that ruin a restorative night’s rest can help.
There are many reasons you might find yourself hungry before bed. Maybe dinner didn’t hit the spot. Or maybe food is a comfort in times of stress or anxiety. However you got here, you might remember advice you’ve heard against eating before bed and be tempted to go to sleep hungry. But if your body is telling you it wants food, listen to it. What’s more, research shows that consuming nutrient-rich foods at night can also be beneficial for heart health and even muscle recovery after exercise. It’s all about choosing foods that support restful sleep and taking a mindful approach to eating that late-night snack.
Getting a good night’s sleep is tied to a slew of health benefits, like clarity of thoughts, quicker reflexes, and an improved mood. That means that not getting enough shut-eye can have some real consequences, like appetite changes, problems with daily tasks, and even a slumping immune system.
No matter how tired you are, ultimately your body decides when and how well your sleep. An area that has particular sway is your stomach. Specifically, we’re talking about the foods that enter your body under the guise of good taste but show their true colors when you try to get to sleep.
The truth is that what you eat and drink and when you consume it can really affect the quality of your sleep. We have all heard that you shouldn’t consume a big meal or a highly caffeinated beverage right before bed, and if you’ve ever over-indulged in alcohol, you know how it can wreak havoc with your sleep cycle. Yet, it turns out that our sleep quality and the quality of our nutrition are rather intricately linked in more ways than we may think. Here are some things you need to know about drinking and eating before bed.
Best And Worst Foods to Eat Before Sleep
Best Foods to Eat Before Bed
A popular garnish on meats and fishes (especially in France!), tarragon is as medicinal as it is flavorful. “Tarragon has been used as a remedy for poor sleep quality,” explains integrative health practitioner Kristin Grayce McGary LAc., MAc., author of Holistic Keto for Gut Health: A Program for Resetting your Metabolism. The spring herb also antioxidant properties, supports digestion, and is a good source of potassium, she says.
Your move: purchase either fresh tarragon (which FYI can last in the fridge about 4 days) or dried tarragon. Then, either make this Whole30 Butternut Squash, Fennel, and Tarragon Hash, this Creamy Mushroom, Chicken, and Tarragon Soup, or sprinkle the herb on a slab of salmon, chicken, veal, or whatever your meat of choice is.
Cherries, especially the tart Montmorency variety, are a natural source of melatonin. Studies have found that the fruit can help you stay asleep longer and improve the quality of your sleep.
Turkey contains a pretty well-known ingredient associated with sleepiness: The amino acid tryptophan. Research shows that foods with tryptophan produce serotonin, which may help promote sleep (though maybe not in the way you’ve always heard).
Serotonin is one of the hormones that influences our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. The solution? Eating foods like turkey, soy beans, and pumpkin seeds, which contain decent amounts of tryptophan.
Almonds or Walnuts
“A small handful of nuts will satisfy cravings and hunger while inducing sleepiness,” Kirkpatrick says. That’s because nuts like walnuts and almonds offer natural melatonin, protein, and magnesium.
Magnesium, for one, may help reduce insomnia in older adults, according to past research. As the Cleveland Clinic notes, one ounce (oz) of dry roasted almonds (about 24 nuts) offers 80 milligrams (mg) of magnesium, making them a good source of the mineral. Research suggests that sufficient magnesium in the diet may improve sleep quality, especially if you have insomnia.
Just ensure the nuts have low or no added sodium, because “salt can disrupt the sleeping cycle,” Kirkpatrick says. And keep calories and fat in check by sticking to a 1 oz serving. If you prefer walnuts to almonds, 1 oz equates to roughly 14 walnut halves, says the Cleveland Clinic.
Bananas are mostly made up of fast-digesting carbs. And fast digestion is definitely your goal when you’re snacking before bed, Morse says.
“Bananas are also a good source of magnesium, which helps calm stress hormones and so can promote sleep,” Morse says.
Murray agrees that bananas are a safe pick.
Cereal and Skim Milk
As a popular midnight snack, we’re pretty happy cereal and skim milk made the list. Milk like turkey, contains the tryptophan amino acid. Stick to skim milk however, for its lower fat count. What’s even better is rice cereal is actually shown to be able to decrease the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep by half!
Sleeping poorly? That’s no excuse to cut out kale. “You SHOULD be eating dark leafy greens with dinner,” says celebrity nutritionist Dr. Daryl Gioffre (who has worked with Kelly Ripa). “They’ll give you plenty of fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics, which help keep your colon clean.” And, like spinach, kale is packed with calcium, which helps your body produce sleep-inducing melatonin, he says.
If you have the option between sauteing the chewy green and eating it raw, Dr. Gioffre recommends opting raw, because the heat may reduce the food’s vitamin C contents.
One caveat: Because leafy greens are so full of slow-digesting fiber, he recommends giving the leaves about three hours to move through your system before shutting your eyes. So, avoid kale on the nights when you plan to snooze immediately after snacking.
Breads, crackers, pastas, or rice combined with a protein, like turkey, eggs, or low fat dairy, may be the perfect combination for a presleep snack. “The carbohydrate-containing foods help the tryptophan-rich foods get absorbed by the brain,” says Lindsey Joe, RD.
Whole oats are also a source of melatonin, a hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep. It’s also found in wheat and barley..
Roasted chickpeas are a nutrient-dense, low-calorie snack that’s high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, Valdez says. This makes them a healthier alternative to salty snacks like potato chips.
For example, a 1 oz serving of roasted chickpeas has 120 calories, 6 g of protein, and 5 g of fiber, making it a good source of the latter.
This recipe for roasted chickpeas from Love & Lemons requires just three ingredients: canned chickpeas, olive oil, and sea salt (plus your choice of spices, to taste).
So long as they’re not in french fry form, sweet potatoes can help you sleep better! Registered dietitian Lisa Mastela, MPH, RD, founder and CEO of Bumpin Blends explains: “Sweet potatoes contain B6 which boosts mood and melatonin which prepares for sleep, so eating sweet potatoes help you feel both relaxed and sleepy.” Plus, the veggie is fiberlicious, so you don’t have to worry about waking up hungry in the middle of the night. How’s that for a win-win-win?
Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed
That serving of Ben & Jerry’s you’ve been spooning before crawling between the sheets isn’t doing your sleep schedule any favors. Functional medicine guru Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition, author of the best-selling books KETO DIET and COLLAGEN DIET explains explains:
For starters, “Ice cream is high in sugar, which can spike your insulin levels. And high insulin levels have been shown to make it difficult to fall asleep,” he says. Beyond that, most folks eat ice cream late at night—as opposed to at, like, six pm. “Late night snacking on ice cream can lead to increased cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone that can make it difficult to fall asleep as well,” he says.
Oranges and grapefruits might be a go-to snack, but save them for drinks and meals earlier in the day. They can be tough on the digestive system and trigger indigestion that disturbs sleep.
Sure, a glass of red wine at night may make you feel sleepy, but drinking before bed could actually disturb sleep in healthy people. “Be sure to cut back on nightcaps, enjoying no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men,” Joe advises.
Before you reach for a candy bar before bed, know this: Chocolate is packed with sugar, which can have a serious impact on how well you sleep. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that participants who ate more sugar and saturated fats experienced less deep sleep and woke up more throughout the night. (Read more about how sugar affects sleep.) Chocolate also contains some caffeine, which can stimulate the nervous system and keep you awake for hours.
Potato chips are a classic late-night snack. But they’re typically high in unhealthy fats and empty calories, says Valdez. In other words, potato chips provide plenty of calories and saturated fats, while offering few to no nutrients. A single cup has 140 calories and 8.8 g of fat (1.4 g from saturated fat), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Chips are also salty, “which can make a person even hungrier and lead to overeating,” Kirkpatrick says. If you’re not careful, you may take in more calories than you need, leading to weight gain over time. Not to mention, consuming too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, notes the American Heart Association.
Roughly 10 percent of younger men may suffer from acid reflux—but many of them don’t know it, Murray says.
“Common symptoms are a burning sensation in the back of your throat or in your chest,” he explains.
With reflux, the normal seal that keeps the contents of your stomach from bubbling up into your esophagus and throat doesn’t do its job properly. And, as you might expect, lying down makes the problem worse, he says.
Spicy or fried foods, as well as tomato-based sauces (again, think pizza), are all very acidic, Smith adds. Take them off your pre-bed menu.
We all say it, “caffeine doesn’t affect me”, but caffeine can stimulate the central nervous system far deeper into the night. Caffeine can affect the body anywhere from 8 to 14 hours after consumption. Meaning you definitely don’t want to consume it the few hours before bed. And you may even want to avoid coffee, energy drinks or soda as an afternoon snack as well.
Another fruit (yes, that says fruit, not vegetable) that’s super acidic? Tomatoes. “Tomatoes and tomato-based products can really wreak havoc on your ability to sleep,” says registered dietician Amanda Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living. The reason? Again, heartburn.
High Fat Foods
Sorry, but a late night rendezvous with Ben & Jerry’s could lead to restlessness in the wee hours. “High fat foods such as chips, fried foods, or ice cream should be avoided before bed,” advises Lisa Moskovitz, RD.
“Fat takes a long time to digest which will keep the body awake, or not well-rested, throughout the [digestion] process.”
A 2016 study suggested that high saturated fat led to lighter, less restorative sleep, though more research needs to be done to confirm this.
Chicken or any type of protein on its own takes a lot of energy to digest, and lengthening this process could throw your sleep schedule out of whack. Protein contains an amino acid known as tyrosine, which promotes brain activity. A pairing of protein and carbs, however, is one of the best things to eat before bed. Having a snack that includes one serving of protein and one serving of carbs (such as an apple with almond butter) will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent you from waking up in the middle of the night.
High Sugar Cereals
Unlike our cereal recommendation above, high sugar cereals are not the same. These cereals have more sugar than you can imagine and will make your blood sugar skyrocket then crash throughout the night. Meaning that you really need to look at the labels to ensure you are making the right choice. If not, this will surely interrupt your sleep.
Much like the high fat foods, high protein meals are harder for your body to breakdown, keeping you awake. Yes all that protein will contain tryptophan, however when there is more tryptophan than other amino acids, it actually reduces serotonin. So eating red meat or pork that is high in fat may be doing more harm than good.
Spoiler alert: If you have any even a little bit of dairy intolerance or allergy, and you chow down a cheese platter before bed, it’s going to disrupt your Zzz’s. At least according to Moy, “Any intolerance can cause inflammation, gas and bloating, which can lead to pain and discomfort that make it harder to get quality sleep.”
Even if you’re not dairy-adverse, according to Dr. Axe, there are cheeses you should avoid. He explains: “Aged cheeses contain tyramine, an amino acid that increases the production of norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter released during stressful situations as part of the fight-or-flight response— which can lead to increased alertness and decreased sleep quality,” he says. So save the gouda for your morning omelette, and opt for cheese like goat cheese, crumbly feta, and halloumi at night.
I once had a math teacher give us peppermint gum during a test to stay awake. Don’t eat, drink, or chew peppermint before bed. Although those free peppermints out the door may look enticing, skip it. Peppermint is a heartburn trigger and you’ll be glad we warned you. Even brushing your teeth with a mint flavored toothpaste may give you a brief uplift. But don’t worry, you don’t have to give up brushing your teeth before bed to still sleep well!
You might want to rethink having that tall glass of H2O on your bedside table—unless you’re saving it for the morning. “Yes, you should drink plenty of water during the day to stay hydrated. In fact, even slight dehydration can significantly drain your energy levels,” offers Palinski-Wade. “But if you drink too much right before bed, you may find yourself awakening multiple times to urinate. Instead, start to taper off your fluid intake about three hours before bedtime.” To chug more water during the day and help aid your weight loss efforts, try one of these delicious detox waters!
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