You have probably heard that you should stay off your electronics before bed if you struggle to sleep. Other tips we often hear include sleeping in a pitch-dark room or using a white noise machine.
These are all great pieces of advice, but did you think to take a look at your plate? Maybe the food you eat before bed prevents you from getting the restful sleep you need.
Read ahead to learn more about how food can impact your sleep. We will also discuss the types of food you should avoid eating close to bedtime.
How Eating Before Bed Can Affect Sleep Quality
According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, eating or drinking less than one hour before bed could increase the risk of inefficient sleep. Indeed, individuals who eat very close to their bedtime are more likely to wake up shortly after falling asleep. This is especially true if you consume a large amount of food instead of a light snack.
Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose from your blood into your cells. When you consume food close to your bedtime, you produce insulin which can affect your wake-sleep cycle by signaling wakefulness to your brain. This can prevent you from falling asleep and/or interfere with your sleep quality.
Eating close to bedtime can also trigger an episode of heartburn or cause other symptoms like reflux. Those symptoms can prevent you from falling asleep, but they can also create small episodes of arousal throughout the night. This prevents you from getting a lot of deep sleep, causing you to be tired in the morning.
Therefore, if you want to avoid these issues, you should make sure to leave some space between the time you eat your last meal and the time you go to bed. But how much time? Studies show that eating for the last time four to six hours before bed is optimal for sleep duration and quality.
Foods and Drinks You Should Avoid Before Going to Bed
You now know that eating is important for sleep, but what about what you eat?
Fatty and spicy foods can trigger unpleasant heartburn, which can make it difficult to go to sleep pic.twitter.com/6slZKt7MPU— Business Insider (@BusinessInsider) May 4, 2019
It is better to stay off hamburgers, pizzas, French fries, or juicy steaks right before bedtime. Those foods are high in fats, the macronutrient that takes the longest to digest. If you go to bed right after a fatty meal, your digestive system will be working hard for the first half of the night, which can be detrimental to sleep. Fatty foods are also more likely to cause indigestion, which will definitely keep you up at night.
As mentioned before, your body releases insulin when you eat carbohydrates. When you eat foods high in sugars, like candies or pop, your body has to produce a lot of insulin to get rid of the sugars in your blood. A high concentration of insulin can send your brain the message that it is time to be awake and prevent you from falling asleep.
Foods Rich in Tyramine
Tyramine is an amino acid that can act as a natural stimulant. If you eat foods high in tyramine right before bed, it can increase brain activity and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Examples of such foods include tomatoes, soy sauce, eggplants, red wine, and aged cheeses.
Spicy or Acidic Foods
Spicy and acidic foods are a major cause of heartburn, which can keep you up at night. The burning feeling is very uncomfortable, and the reflux can prevent you from laying down.
If you eat a very spicy dish, it will also increase your body's temperature. Feeling hot and sweaty can make you too uncomfortable to fall asleep. Not only that, but did you know that your body's temperature naturally goes down before bedtime? This phenomenon helps you sleep better. If you eat something spicy, your body's temperature increases and your sleep quality is compromised.
Foods That Can Cause Gas
Painful gas will keep you up at night. The cramping can make it difficult to focus on falling asleep. Examples of foods that can cause gas include broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, brussels sprouts, and high-fiber foods in general. Yes, these are all healthy and should be a part of a balanced diet, but maybe not right before bed, in case they make your stomach feel uncomfortable.
It seems like a no-brainer that you should avoid caffeine before going to bed. Most people stay off coffee, but did you know that some foods also have caffeine in them? For example, your beloved chocolate might be what is keeping you up at night! A lot of soda pops also have caffeine in them. And avoid anything coffee-flavored, like ice cream or cakes, as some of these are made with real espresso.
Many people believe alcohol can help them sleep because it is a sedative. While having a couple of glasses of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, it will also damage your sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts the natural cycle of your sleep and makes you spend less time in the REM phase, which is restorative sleep.
Studies suggest that a moderate amount of alcohol, which is two drinks for men and one drink for women, can decrease the quality of your sleep by 24%. And if you have more than this, your sleep quality goes down by 39%. If you have alcohol regularly before bed, your sleep quality will go down significantly, and, over time, you will feel more and more sleepy during the day.
What To Eat Instead
Fortunately, not all foods are bad when it comes to sleep. Here is a list of foods that could help doze off at night:
Like most fruits, kiwis are high in micronutrients, but they are particularly rich in vitamins C and E, potassium, and folate. There is some evidence that eating two kiwis one hour before going to bed could help you fall asleep faster. It could also increase the duration and the quality of your sleep.
The exact reasons why kiwis could help you sleep are still unknown, but their antioxidant properties, high folate content, and/or high concentration in serotonin could explain why.
Cherries are one of the top antioxidant foods. Both tart and sweet cherries have anti-inflammatory properties. They contain melatonin for better sleep, and can help to lessen joint pain. #wickhamsfruitfarm pic.twitter.com/mv5E8YtOKX— WickhamsFruitFarm (@Wickhams_Fruit) June 26, 2019
Tart cherries have a distinctly sour taste, and recent studies suggest they provide many health benefits, including better sleep. People with insomnia could particularly benefit from consuming tart cherries because it could increase their sleeping time and efficiency.
Tart cherries improve tryptophan's absorption in your body, which in turn increases the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone causing sleepiness, which explains why people who eat tart cherries sleep better.
Malted milk is made by combining evaporated whole milk powder, malted barley, and wheat flour. It also contains sugars and vitamins. Some use it to give beverages a distinctive flavor, while others put it in their baking products to help the dough cook better.
Research suggests that consuming malted milk could decrease the number of sleep interruptions during the night because milk contains melatonin, which causes sleepiness. Some believe that the vitamins B and D found in malted milk also improve sleep.
We mentioned before that you should avoid consuming a lot of carbohydrates right before bed. However, it seems like rice might be the exception that confirms the rule. A Japanese study found that adults who ate a lot of rice slept better than those who ate bread or noodles.
Just like tart cherries, rice could increase the absorption of tryptophan, which results in more melatonin and serotonin production and drowsiness.
Nuts contain three components known to cause sleepiness: melatonin, magnesium, and zinc. Indeed, studies have shown that combining these three could improve sleep in adults with insomnia.
The quantity of melatonin, zinc, and magnesium varies from one type of nut to another. Still, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are more commonly recommended to promote better sleep.
And there you have it: how you can use food to improve the quality of your sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, you should stop eating about four hours before going to bed. This will prevent a spike in insulin that could cause your brain to become more awake.
You are also less likely to be bothered by heartburn and reflux symptoms right before bedtime. There are also some types of food that you should stay away from to make sure you get a good night's sleep. These include acidic, spicy, and fatty foods and alcohol and caffeine.
Finally, you can try to eat nuts or kiwis an hour or so before bed as it may promote better sleep. You can also pour yourself a glass of tart cherry juice or malted milk, as these two could also help with your sleep.