When it comes to a poor night's sleep, we're quick to blame our bed, our racing thoughts, or even the full moon. However, our diet can play a role in how well we rest, and certain foods can disrupt your sleep cycles. Knowing what foods can keep you up can help you plan your meals so that you get the best sleep you deserve. And believe it or not, it's not just coffee that keeps you up at night — more unsuspecting foods can as well.
"Many understand that what we eat during the day — and especially at night — can impact our quality of sleep, but it turns out that how long we sleep can also influence the foods we choose to consume the next day," says Abbott nutritionist Pamela Nisevich Bede over email. "Eating a balanced diet can help you sleep better, and consequently encourage you to continue eating well the next day."
To help keep the cycle of restful sleep and healthy eating in check, it's good to take a look at your daily food intake to see what may be disturbing your night. If you think your diet may be causing issues with how quickly you fall asleep or how much you toss and turn, consider these 11 foods that can disrupt your slumber.
1. Coffee (Even Decaf)
Let's start with the obvious: We all know that drinking coffee late in the day can keep you up at night, but even consumed six hours before bed, coffee can disrupt your rest after you've already fallen asleep, according to research from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. And you may think you're safe sticking with decaf, but the drink still contains some caffeine, which means it can still affect sleep, says a study from the journal Circulation.
"Other foods containing caffeine are often over looked," says Bede. Although tea doesn't contain as much as the stimulant as coffee, it still provides a significant amount. A cup of black tea can still contain almost half the amount of caffeine as a cup of brewed coffee. Tea is also acidic, which can cause acid reflux while in bed and disrupt sleep.
A sugary-filled treat may seem nice at the end of a long day, but research from the European Respiratory Journal suggests that those with elevated blood sugar levels could have trouble sleeping. "Foods that contain large amounts of sugar can give you an added energy boost, making you feel energized and awake no matter what time it is," says Bede.
"Be extra cautious of foods that combine both sugar and caffeine – like chocolate," says Bede. Not only does chocolate have caffeine, but it also contains another stimulant called theobromine that can increase heart rate and cause sleeplessness.
5. Spicy Foods
"Put down the Pad Thai – spicy or acidic foods before bed can cause heartburn, so lying down for a snooze may worsen symptoms," says Bede. "The discomfort alone is often enough to disturb a good night’s rest."
Like spicy foods, citrus is highly-acidic, which means it can cause disturbances during sleep. These fruits are also high in sugar, which makes them unsuspecting culprits of high blood sugar before bed.
"While a glass of wine might sound relaxing before bed, it can also affect your sleep patterns, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night," says Bede. "Research has found that drinking before bed resulted in increased brain activity during sleep, which leads to a more disrupted and less restful sleep."
8. French Fries
Sure, french fries sound like a delicious midnight snack, but these types of junk food are hard for your body to digest and can also cause heartburn. "High-fat and flavorful foods tend to cause GI distress and heartburn havoc, and if you’re trying to lie down, heart burn is bound to be exacerbated," says Bede. "This also means you won’t be able to sleep — you’ll be too busy wondering when the pain will subside."
Eating meat close to bedtime is harmful not only because many types contain a high amount of fat, but because meat also contains protein, which takes longer for your body to digest. "You’ll want to give your system a few hours to digest before sleeping," says Bede.
This cruciferous vegetable is no doubt a health food you should include into your meals, but it may be best to stick to eating broccoli with your lunch. Broccoli is high in fiber, and like protein, fiber takes some time to digest. Eating this veggie before bed might give you stomach discomfort and keep you up. Same goes for other high-fiber vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Like broccoli, celery is a health food you definitely should still enjoy, but it is a vegetable with a high water content, which means it may wake you up in the middle of the night and send you to the bathroom to go pee. Other high water content foods such as cucumbers or watermelon may have the same effect.
Although it's good to avoid these foods before bed, if you're hungry, you don't have to go to sleep on any empty stomach. "Eat a small meal or snack so that your system isn’t overly taxed and you’re not still intensely digesting while trying to relax and unwind," says Bede.
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