11 Foods That Can Hurt Your Sleeping Patterns

by Isadora Baum, CHC
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Getting in a good night's sleep is so important for feeling rested, less stressed and happier during the day, and if we find ourselves losing hours, we might feel sluggish and less productive. Some foods can keep us awake at night, and so by addressing which foods are the offenders and being mindful of what we consume as the day comes to a close, we will be better able to fall asleep and get in the rest we need.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on prioritizing sleep, and we often come up with tactics to help keep them on a regular schedule during the way. Great strategies include setting an alarm to alert them for several actions leading up to getting under the covers, such as putting their PJ's on, brushing their teeth, powering down electronics and stopping consumption of food too close to bedtime. By sticking to a set schedule and making sure that there's a "curfew" to allow the body to get sleepy, my clients are better able to follow through on their wellness goals and be more productive at work during the day. Thus, avoiding foods that keep us up is pivotal. Here are eleven ways that food can keep us awake at night and what to do about it.

1. The Food Is Too Spicy

Certain foods that are too spicy or perhaps fried and spicy in texture and flavor can create an acidic, heated environment in the body and keep us awake at night, says Keri Gans, MS, R.D. CDN. to me over email. "For many people digesting spicy or fried foods before going to bed can wreak havoc on their sleep," she says. Limiting spices, especially if you become overheated due to hotter flavors and temperatures of foods, can help make you more tired and ready for bed.

2. The Food Is Fried

According to Gans, fried foods can disrupt the ability to sleep, as well. Plus, experts at WebMD say that fried and heavy foods, such as a hamburger and french fries, can interfere with sleep due to digestive woes and acidity. Instead of fried, try roasted, grilled, steamed, baked or sautéed preparations instead to cut down on added fats, sugars, sodium and calories.

3. There's Caffeine Present

Foods or beverages, such as coffee, dark chocolate, tea, and sodas, can contain caffeine, which can keep the body too alert and energized to sleep soundly, says Gans. "Caffeine too close to bedtime can definitely keep you awake," she directly emphasizes. Swap these beverages for water instead, and eat a dessert that is without caffeine if it affects you, such as fruit.

4. The Meal Is Too Heavy

Sarah Remmer, a registered dietician based in Calgary, told HuffPost in an interview that a meal too rich in fiber, fats and protein can be heavy and take more effort to digest. Because it's slower to digest, it can lead to uncomfortable stomach pains, which can keep you awake and be less able to fall asleep when you desire. Be mindful of how much you are eating, and check in with your body to stop once you are almost full.

5. You Have A Glass Of Wine

"Even though alcohol may be relaxing and help you fall asleep, studies show [drinking alcohol before bed] not only causes frequent waking at night, but it also reduces REM sleep, so often we won’t feel like we slept at all," says Darin Hulslander, Nutrition Coach, to me over email. Be mindful of alcohol, and pick days to drink wisely. Perhaps having a few nights without the nightcap could benefit you!

6. Your Food Contains Tyramine

"Fermented foods, such as sour cream, aged cheeses, and yogurt contain an ingredient called Tyramine," says Hulslander. "Tyramine is an amino acid that’s known to stimulate brain activity, which could prevent you from falling asleep at night for quite a long time. For the cheese lovers, a mozzarella based snack would be much better before bed time," as it isn't aged, he says.

7. There's Too Much Sugar

According to Rachel Wong, Sleep Research Specialist at mattress company OSO, over email to me, "sugary foods also give you an extra dose of unwanted energy." Instead of eating a processed, sweet food, such as a cupcake, or generously consuming condiments and sauces, such as ketchup, marinara sauce and mayonnaise (all of which are high in sugar and bad additives, Stefanie Senior, a registered dietitian, tells HuffPost), have more vegetables and lean proteins to fill up.

8. Your Food Isn't Nutrient Dense

If your meal does not contain valuable nutrients to help fuel and repair the body, it can prevent you from getting drowsy, says Wong. "There is a strong link between healthy digestion and sleep, so choosing foods packed with vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium and calcium, will help support your body function more efficiently, promoting optimal sleep and health. Choose nutrient-dense meals and snacks packed with leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds," she advises.

9. Your Food Gives You Reflux

Some foods can trigger indigestion and discomfort, such as tomatoes, caffeine, and alcohol, among others, which can impair sleep, advises Wong. "Chew gum to encourage saliva production," she recommends, as this can help get things moving in the mouth and make onset of sleep more likely due to proper digestion. The gum will help the digestive process.

10. Our Food Does Not Make Us "Happy"

Eating foods high in serotonin and dopamine can make us feel happier, advises Wong, something other experts at Cleveland Clinic agree with. Such foods include complex carbs, such as quinoa and brown rice, and healthy fats, such as oily fish, avocados, nuts, olive oil and chia and hemp seeds. Eating these foods can make us feel ready for bed and for sweet, sweet dreams.

11. You Don't Use The Herb/Spice Cabinet Well

There are some herbs that can help us sleep, such as sage and basil, while other can stimulate us, such as black pepper and red peppers, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, an expert at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Be mindful of flavorings and use the cabinet to serve you in the best way possible.

Getting enough rest can make our days better, as it can keep us more energized, happier, rested and more productive each day. Eating well prior to bed and avoiding triggers is a great way to minimize sleeping difficulties and make sure that your 7-9 hours are a go.