You could be the picture of perfection when it comes to eating early in the evening, not watching TV all night on the couch, and even curling up in an ideal 68-degree, batcave-like bedroom. Heck, you may not even have any to-do’s or anxieties scratching at your brain as you lay awake at night. So, why can’t you sleep?!
It’s not just late-night munching and blue light from your devices’ screens that can sabotage your sleep cycle. As it turns out, what you nosh on can play a big role in how well you hit the hay. If you can’t sleep and can’t figure out why, look no farther than your diet. Read on to find out which sneaky foods can ruin a restorative night rest. And if you happen to start your day with a smoothie, you’ll want to uncover What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Smoothie Every Day to see how it’s really affecting you.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that chocolate treat after dinner isn’t doing your REM any favors. “As a nutritionist who also struggles with falling and staying asleep, I know firsthand what can wreak havoc on our sleep cycle,” shares Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. “Chocolate is a hidden source of caffeine. That means taking a forkful of your favorite souffle or chocolate ice cream may be the very thing keeping you up. The caffeine in chocolate causes increased arousal, and decreases the ability to develop and sustain the deeper stages of sleep.”
You probably know white wine can sometimes cause heartburn, but it’s not the only beverage to blame for not being able to sleep. “Alcohol in general relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which normally works to keep the acid down in the stomach,” Hayim explains. “As it relaxes, the acid from the alcohol can enter into your throat, giving you that burning feeling deep in your chest.”
Mitzi Dulan, RD, author of The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin and team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals adds: “Research shows that drinking alcohol before bed can make you more likely to wake up throughout the night and diminishes quality of sleep. We also know alcohol can lead to snoring since it is a potent muscle relaxer.” For a little motivation to cut back on the booze, check out these amazing benefits of giving up alcohol!
Think: Loaded burritos, ice cream sundaes, fried chicken. “These high-fat foods take longer to digest, and often cause bloating and indigestion that interfere with a sound night’s rest,” offer The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.
Consuming too much dried fruit can bother your stomach and cause you to have gas and cramps during the night, according to nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN. “This is thanks to their high-fiber, low-water content.” Come morning, don’t eat ’em, either. They’re one of the top foods nutritionists wish you would stop adding to your overnight oats.
“I love recommending hot peppers as an easy way to boost metabolism, but consuming them late in the evening can trigger heartburn in sensitive individuals,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. “Also, their thermogenic properties can increase the body’s core temperature.” Since your core temperature naturally decreases as you get ready to sleep, raising it can cause you to feel more awake and struggle with staying asleep. So keep the hot and spicy options for your healthy breakfast ideas.
Like hot peppers, hot sauce is another food that can keep you up at night. The explanation for this one is a bit different, though: “Hot sauce gets its heat from the compound capsaicin found in chili peppers,” offers Hayim. “Capsaicin can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open for longer than usual, causing intense feelings of heartburn,” she warns. Sounds like an equation for one spicy mess, if you ask us.
There are health benefits of mint, but sleeping well isn’t one of them. “Many people pop peppermints into their mouths after dinner to freshen their breath,” says Hayim. “Some people have it in their tea thinking it will soothe them. But, as it turns out, peppermint is a heartburn trigger. So, definitely stay away from it before bed!”
Pass right by the fruit loops, please. “Eating high-sugar cereals will make your blood sugar spike and crash, which will affect your sleep,” says DeFazio. “Choose cereal with less than five grams of sugar per serving.” Make sure you’re not eating one of the 28 worst breakfast cereals, from AM to PM. Period.
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you’ll actually look forward to eating.
Whether it’s a quick fix for working late or your go-to drunk food, a slice of pizza won’t give you any sweet dreams. “The combination of fat in the cheese and the acid in the tomato sauce can have a negative impact on your sleep quality,” says Palinski-Wade. “High-acid foods can trigger acid reflux, especially when eaten close to bedtime. Even if you don’t feel ‘heartburn,’ this reflux can cause you to awaken partially from sleep and leave you tired the next day.”
Kissing someone before bed isn’t the only reason to give up these guys right before bedtime. “Onions can cause gas that affects the pressure in your stomach,” says Hayim. “As a result, the sphincter is forced to open, which allows your meal and acidity to enter back into your esophagus. Studies have found that raw onions can cause potent and long-lasting feelings of reflux in people who already have heartburn.” Now that’s something to toss and turn over.
We hope you’d know this one by now! But in case you need a little background info: “Caffeine can stimulate the central nervous system several hours after consuming it,” says The Nutrition Twins. “If you’re at all sensitive to it, you will probably lie awake.” So skip the hot cocoa (chocolate can contain caffeine), the caffeinated tea, coffee, and soda. “Caffeine is a stimulant that may cause insomnia,” says DeFazio. What’s more, there are countless health benefits of giving up soda from improved energy to weight loss. You don’t have to tell us twice.
We know you love it, but don’t squeeze that blob onto your plate. “Ketchup is extremely acidic thanks to the tomatoes it’s made with,” offers Hayim. “In addition to the acid that is naturally there, ketchup is usually preserved with other chemicals that make them even more acidic and may lead to heartburn.” Watch out for tomato sauce, too: “Pasta and marinara sauces can contribute to indigestion and heartburn,” The Nutrition Twins say. “This is especially important if you’re prone to indigestion. When you lie down to go to bed, digestion slows and the horizontal position can make heartburn and indigestion even worse.”
And don’t even dream about that triple cheeseburger. “Eating unhealthy fatty foods before bedtime can be a sleep killer,” comments Dulan. “Fatty foods lead to more fragmented sleep, so you wake up the next morning not feeling refreshed.” Bad for your waistline, bad for your sleep…why bother?!
Sounding familiar yet, folks? “Greasy and high-fat foods are the single worst trigger for heartburn,” cautions Hayim. “Before bed, avoid foods coated in oil or that give a big ‘crunch’ when you eat it.”
A little lesson in logic: “You may think a high-protein or high-fat dinner will keep you full all night, preventing you from waking. But research shows that eating a high-protein meal before bed can lead to sleep disturbances,” advises Palinski-Wade. And, like many other foods on this list, you may wind up with indigestion or acid reflux since you’ll be lying down with a full stomach.
We are huge fans of matcha and green tea—after all, we created an entire best-selling plan in which happy test panelists lost 10 pounds in a week! So enjoy these nutritious sippers throughout the day, but make sure to taper off several hours before bedtime, at the least. “Green tea contains two other stimulants in addition to containing caffeine. These other two substances are theobromine and theophylline, which may cause increased heart rate, feelings of nervousness, and overall anxiety,” explains Hayim. “Matcha, a type of green tea, also contains caffeine but is reported to have a less jittery effect compared to green tea.” The health benefits of green tea are incredible though, so you should still enjoy it—but not after 3 or 4 p.m.
Are you the type to always have a tall glass of H2O on your bedside table? You might want to rethink that. “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 detox waters!