The Worst Foods for a Good Night's Rest, According to Sleep Experts
Sleep is vital for your overall wellbeing, playing a key role in important functions like muscle growth and recovery, immune function, and memory. New research even suggests that not getting enough quality sleep may increase the risk of certain conditions such as dementia and heart failure.
The question is, when you're trying to get a good night's rest, what's the last thing you should eat as a snack? Aside from avoiding caffeinated beverages like coffee several hours before your head hits the pillow, are there other beverages you should also skip? To help you get a better night's sleep, we asked two sleep experts to share the worst foods to indulge in before bedtime.
One of the worst things you can eat before going to sleep is any food that triggers gastrointestinal distress, according to Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist, sleep specialist, and formulation consultant for Nightfood Ice Cream. For many individuals, that's spicy foods or foods that trigger mild allergies, which can cause you to toss and turn out of discomfort and ultimately disrupt your sleep cycle.
"But the bigger culprit, which is less well-known, is the fluctuation in blood sugar, which causes awakenings in the early hours," he says. "Carbs, in general, make people feel sleepy due to the serotonin uptick." (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now)
Sleep can cause blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise and drop throughout the night, but that normally isn't a concern in healthy people, according to research compiled by the Sleep Foundation. In fact, regardless of whether you sleep at night or not, blood sugar levels naturally rise at nighttime because of circadian rhythms, aka the body's internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
Due to the body's susceptibility to fluctuations in blood sugar throughout the night, you should avoid any food or drink with sugar (that includes alcohol) before trying to fall asleep, Teralyn Sell, PhD, psychotherapist, and brain health expert, adds.
Both sugary foods and alcohol may cause mild symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia, which is when blood sugar levels dip within four hours after eating a meal that's high in carbohydrates. Mild symptoms include hunger, nausea, nervousness, and shakiness—all of which can ultimately interfere with your quality of sleep.
"When blood sugar levels dip low due to sugars or not eating at all, adrenaline will fire," Sell says. Adrenaline, also known as the "fight or flight" hormone, is the reason why you may feel anxious throughout the night since it's released into the blood in response to stressful or exciting situations.
"You will notice that you will not sleep deeply or become 'awake' at 2 a.m. because of the adrenaline rush due to reactive hypoglycemia," Sell adds. "Additionally, though alcohol might help you fall asleep, it also disrupts every sleep phase causing you to not sleep as deeply."
More specifically, alcohol can sabotage the all-important rapid eye movement (REM) stage of the four-part sleep cycle. During eight hours of sleep, you typically enter REM sleep between four and five times. However, if you drink alcohol before bed, it can suppress REM sleep during the first two cycles and cause you to wake up feeling groggy and excessively sleepy.
Thus, if you have to wake up early for an important presentation or a strenuous workout, avoid eating super spicy foods, a sugary dessert, or even sipping on two glasses of wine a few hours before you head to bed to ensure you get quality sleep.
For tips on what you should eat before bedtime, be sure to check out The 5 Absolute Best Foods to Eat For Better Sleep. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get all of the latest news delivered straight to your inbox.