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The Surprising Foods Making It Harder For You to Sleep, Expert Says

It you're eating something from these food groups, it might be keeping you up at night.
tired woman

There really is nothing better than a restful night's sleep. The morning after, you wake up feeling refreshed, possibly with a bit more pep in your step. When you are unable to fall asleep the night before, though, things are much different. You know, you wake up feeling groggy, moody, and not like your best self.

And that's not even factoring in how the lack of sleep has affected your overall health.

"Sleep deprivation has many possible side effects, including memory issues, trouble with thinking/concentration, weakened immune function, risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and weight gain to name a few," says Dr. Allison Siebern, PhD, CBSM, and Head Sleep Science Advisor at Proper. "That's why it's so important to listen to your body and prioritize sleep in any way that you can."

How much sleep should you be getting exactly? Well, it varies from person to person, as not everyone needs the same amount. The average for most adults, according to Dr. Siebern, is anywhere from 7-9 hours of good sleep.

"Some people need 7 hours to feel refreshed, whereas others may need 9, others may need 8.5," she says. "The important thing is that you pay attention to what's optimal for you."

If you're having trouble reaching that optimal amount of sleep, though, it can be traced back to what you're eating. Your diet could be playing a role, as there are certain foods that simply make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.

To help you get some shut-eye without having to toss and turn and count sheep for hours, we asked Dr. Siebern which food groups are the ones to avoid before bed. Try eliminating these surprising foods from your list of go-to late-night snacks and there's a good chance you'll end up falling asleep much faster! While you're making healthier choices, be sure to stock up on The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

Acidic foods

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That orange does give you a dose of vitamin C, but it's better to eat it much earlier in the day!

"Avoiding acidic foods such as tomatoes, pasta sauce, and citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits) too close to bedtime is recommended," Dr. Siebern says. "Also if you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, it's best to stay away from citrus before bed."

2

Large meals

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You might think really going to town on a big meal before dinner would put you right to sleep, but that isn't necessarily the case. Dr. Siebern says it's best to avoid eating large meals, "especially high-carb, fried, sugary, and spicy ones."

"Although everyone is different, the best practice is to refrain from eating a large meal within three hours of bedtime," she explains. "If you're hungry within that window, try reducing the quantity to a small bedtime snack and steering clear of carbohydrate-heavy, high-fat, fried, and/or spicy foods, which engage the digestive system to work on processing the meal."

3

Alcohol

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Winding down at night by hitting the wine bottle? Doing that as you get closer to the time you're hoping to go to sleep isn't ideal.

"Although alcohol can be relaxing, it may have adverse sleep effects if consumed too close to bedtime (within 3-4 hours), including fragmented and non-refreshing sleep, increased snoring, delayed onset of REM sleep (the dream stage), and more frequent bathroom breaks," Dr. Siebern explains.

So go ahead and have that glass of wine earlier—gives you an excuse to have happy hour on your couch at 5:00 on the dot, if you ask us!

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4

Caffeine

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Some people do like to pair their dessert with a steaming hot cup of Joe, but you're going to want to cut off the caffeine.

"Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, or longer for people taking different types of medication," Dr. Siebern says. "Sensitivities to caffeine vary, but because it's a stimulant, it may cause difficulties in the onset of sleep if it's still in your body's system come bedtime. That's why we recommend limiting caffeine intake to before 2 p.m."

If you know that you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, though, and typically like to go to bed around 10 p.m., Dr. Siebern says "you wouldn't want to consume it after 12-1 p.m. in the afternoon," so just keep that in mind.

So which foods are OK to eat closer to bedtime?

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You might be surprised that there are "actually many delicious, nutritious, and natural foods that can help aid your sleep before bed," according to Dr. Siebern.

So when the craving for a snack before bed hits, here's what you should eat instead:

  • Nuts and seeds: "Almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts are natural sources of melatonin as well as the amino acid tryptophan, which plays an important role in the production of serotonin and melatonin," Dr. Siebern explains. "Additionally, they're filled with magnesium, an essential mineral for bone, brain, heart, and muscle health. Like nuts, seeds such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds may support healthy sleep due to their high levels of tryptophan, which supports serotonin and melatonin production."
  • Dairy products: "Milk (especially warm milk), plain yogurt, and cottage cheese are all great options when it comes to dairy-rich foods that support sleep. This is also due to their inclusion of tryptophan," she adds.
  • Bananas: "In addition to potassium, bananas contain magnesium and tryptophan to support sleep health," she says.
  • Kiwifruit: "In a 4-week study conducted by Taipei Medical University, 24 subjects consumed two kiwis one hour before bed in order for researchers to observe the fruit's effect on sleep patterns, including sleep onset, duration, and quality," Dr. Siebern explains. "Results showed that consuming kiwifruit before bedtime may help you fall asleep with improved sleep quality. This may be due to its high concentration of antioxidants and vitamins, such as folate."
  • Tart cherries and tart cherry juice: "As a natural source of melatonin, tart cherries (and their juice) have been studied as natural sleep remedies shown to increase exogenous melatonin and may lead to improved sleep duration and quality—which is why we included it as one of the key ingredients in our Sleep + Restore formulation," Dr. Siebern says.
  • Barley grass powder: "Barley grass powder, which is a dehydrated form of the whole grain's grass extract, contains sleep-promoting compounds such as GABA, calcium, tryptophan, magnesium, and potassium," she says. "It also helps to regulate blood pressure, enhancing immunity, protecting the liver, improving gastrointestinal function, boosting cognition, and more. The superfood can be found at most health stores and pharmacies, as well as online."
  • Legumes: "Beans and chickpeas are high in amino acids and vitamins, which are important for serotonin production. So you may want to consider a late-night hummus snack!" she suggests.

Something else Dr. Siebern highlights is that even if you're eating and avoiding all the right foods, there is more to it than that to achieve that full night's sleep you're searching for.

"If you don't practice sleep hygiene, you'll only get so far in achieving proper sleep health," she says.

So to best help you on your sleep journey, here are five super easy tips "to help you make beneficial behavioral changes to optimize your short and long-term sleep health," according to Dr. Siebern.

  1. Avoid clock watching
  2. Develop a nighttime routine
  3. Limit blue light exposure
  4. Practice proper in-bed behavior
  5. Try to get on a consistent sleep schedule

Now, it's time for some sweet dreams.

Jennifer Maldonado
Jennifer Maldonado is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and health content. Read more
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