You’ve probably heard of the “no eating after 6pm” rule for losing weight, but turns out, what you eat for dinner and after can affect a lot more than your waistline. In fact, a lot of common and seemingly healthy snacks (celery sticks, for one!) can seriously mess with your sleep pattern. Timing is also important. Experts suggest eating at least two hours—preferably more—before your bedtime to avoid acid reflux. So what should you avoid to ensure that better, deeper sleep is no longer an impossible dream? We turned to nutrition experts to find out.
But these seem so innocuous! Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but not only are they loaded with calories (and easy to overeat) they’re very high in sugar. “Dried fruits are one of those seemingly healthy foods I normally suggest people stay away from. It’s especially important around bedtime because of how much sugar they have,” says bestselling author of Turn Up The Heat: Unlock the Fat-Burning Power of Your Metabolism, Dr. Goglia. “They will send your blood sugar through the roof and make it harder to fall asleep.”
Try: Fresh cherries—they naturally contain sleep-inducing melatonin.
“Some people experience bloating and gas after consuming dairy because they cannot digest lactose properly,” says certified Integrative Nutrition health coach and yoga instructor, Kerri Axelrod. “Gas and bloating can result in a lot of discomfort, which will make staying asleep difficult.” And as far as the common belief that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed will help put you to sleep? Not quite true. There’s little evidence to support it, and for the 30 million Americans who are lactose intolerance, it’s best to stay away from milk, ice cream, and cheese so your body isn’t working extra hard to digest the food you just ate.
Try: Instead of a warm glass of milk, try a cozy cup of herbal tea.
It goes without saying that you should avoid coffee before bed because of its caffeine content, but caffeine is present in a long list of other foods and beverages—like many teas and chocolate—so read labels carefully. “The problem with caffeine is that it stimulates you right as you’re trying to wind down,” explains celebrity trainer and the creator of Beach Body’s 21 Day Fix program, Autumn Calabrese. And it’s important to note that the effects of caffeine differ by person, so if you’re sensitive to caffeine, your late afternoon cup of coffee could still be keeping you from sleep at night.
“Hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, and hot dogs take long to digest and will lead to less quality sleep because your body is still working hard to digest the food,” says Dr. Goglia. These foods also tend to be high in saturated fats. “Too much of this kind of fat, at any time of the day, isn’t good for us for many reasons including increasing blood pressure and waistline size,” says Calabrese.
Breakfast for dinner is always tempting, but unfortunately not a great idea. “Consuming snacks high in sugar like many name brand cereals before bed can cause a rise in blood sugar,” says Axelrod. “When your blood sugar becomes too high, your body wants to get rid of the sugar through urination. This can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night feeling like you need to pee, or it can make you very thirsty.” She also notes that rapid increases or decreases in blood sugar have been shown to cause anxiety, which can disrupt sleep.
Try: If you’re craving something sweet before bed, reach for a piece of fresh fruit. Since fruit has fiber, it will prevent blood-sugar spikes.
If you have trouble sleeping, it’s important to avoid any natural diuretics, like celery. “Celery will stimulate your bladder causing you to wake up to use the restroom multiple times throughout the night,” says Calabrese. That said, celery is a great addition to most people’s diets, so try working it into your day earlier on to help flush out your system.
“Eating starchy carbs right before bed means all of those carbs are going to get stored as fat instead of burned as fuel,” says Calabrese. Other ingredients added to starchy carbs (like pasta) tend to be things that also contribute to stored fat in the body when consumed right before bed (think cheese, oil, and tomato sauce). Starchy carbs are also high on the glycemic index, meaning they affect your blood-sugar levels, which can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If you care about getting a restful sleep, it’s best to resist the temptation of a late-night glass of wine. Though it may help you fall asleep, it can also cause you to wake up multiple times throughout the night. “As your body metabolizes alcohol, your sleep can become fragmented, and you will have trouble getting a good night’s rest,” says Axelrod.
Try: Herbs like skullcap, chamomile, and griffonia seed can help lull you to a deep sleep. (But consult your doctor before use!)
Spices and Acids
“Spicy, acidic foods can cause acid reflux, which can result in a burning sensation in your chest,” says Axelrod. Avoid peppers, chilies and other culprits as laying down can worsen these symptoms.
Do you have any tips for sleeping better we should know about? Let us know below!