It’s late at night. You’re dead tired. You lie down in bed and close your eyes, wanting to get a goodnight sleep. You toss and turn, take on all the sleeping positions you love, and count sheep in your head… only to find that more than an hour has passed and you’re still wide awake. What’s wrong with you?
Chances are, you probably ate something that’s keeping you up right before bedtime. If you don’t want to have insomnia come knocking into your bedroom, stay away from these 13 worst foods to eat at night. These are the kinds of foods that will prevent you from getting a shuteye and well-deserved rest.
I know what you’re thinking. How can something so divine be bad for bedtime? Just the thought of smooth, luscious chocolate gliding in your mouth makes you want to snuggle with a pillow and call it a night.
Chocolate has caffeine though, especially dark chocolate. Caffeine is normally found in the cacao pods used to make chocolate. It is the same thing present in coffee which gives you that morning jolt and extra doses of energy throughout the day. It is a stimulant that improves mental alertness, reduces tiredness, and speeds up your metabolic rate – not exactly the things you want before heading to bed.
Darker chocolates usually contain more caffeine than lighter colored ones, making them the worst possible chocolate to eat before sleep. Basically, the darker the chocolate is, the more caffeine you can get out of it. The more caffeine a chocolate has, the more you should avoid it at night.
Some of these dark chocolates contain a significant amount of caffeine. Take Hershey’s Bliss Dark Chocolate for example. It has 30 mg of caffeine. That is about 25 to 38 percent the caffeine of a standard sized cup of coffee, more caffeine than a half ounce of espresso, just a little less than the caffeine found in a cup of brewed tea, and the same amount found in a cup of instant tea. Even milk chocolate has enough caffeine to keep you up. A 1.5 oz. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar has 9 to 12 mg of caffeine, which is 3 to 4 times more than the caffeine present in a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
Caffeine is not the only culprit in chocolate however. It also contains another stimulant – theobromine. Theobromine causes your heart to race and will make sleeping difficult. The one type of chocolate you can eat at night is white chocolate. It does not contain theobromine and has little to no caffeine.
2. Spicy food
Digestion slows down during sleep. And because it takes extra effort for the body to digest spicy food, it will have a harder time doing so during sleep. The body is supposed to rest and recover during this time of the day. Eating spicy food hours before bedtime will disturb the continuity of your sleep and cause you to wake up several times during the night. As a result, you will have poor quality sleep that leaves you tired even if you did manage to get some.
Another way in which spicy foods reduce the quality of sleep is how it raises the core body temperature. Your body will have a hard time adjusting to this above-than-usual temperature and further reduce the quality of your sleep.
It has also been suggested in some studies that eating spicy foods disrupts the sleep by causing nightmares. Tore Nielsen, a director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacré-Coeur Hospital and professor at the Université de Montreal, believes this is possible. According to Neilsen, some people may be sensitive to the chemical composition of spicy foods, inducing nightmares and weird dreams.
Lisa Medalie, a Clinical Associate of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago Hospitals, recommends avoiding spicy meals at least two to three hours before going to bed.
It’s not surprising. The coffee beans used to make this beverage contains caffeine. Millions of people rely on coffee to stay awake and keep away the Z’s. In the United States alone, 50% of the population or 150 million Americans drink coffee at an average of 3 cups a day. But since you’re after a good night’s rest, you should avoid drinking coffee in all its forms – cold, hot, cappuccino, espresso, latte, or straight up.
Caffeine is specifically a central nervous system stimulant. It blocks the production of sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increases the production of adrenaline, a hormone that allows your body to make use of available energy. This explains why coffee leaves you feeling wide awake.
An 8 oz. cup of coffee contains an average of 250 mg of caffeine. Coffee can lend its stimulating effects in as short as 15 minutes after consumption. Once you have fully digested it however, its effects can last for hours. It takes a total of 6 hours for your body to get rid of half the caffeine found in a cup of coffee. Drinking three 8 oz. cups of coffee in a day is deemed moderate but it is best that you avoid having a cup at least 12 hours before going to sleep. Drinking more than 6 servings of coffee in a day is considered and excessive and will leave you with enough caffeine in your system to stay up the whole evening.
If you think drinking decaffeinated coffee will spare you from insomnia, you’re mistaken. Some people are “caffeine sensitive” and may feel energetic with just a decaf. For these people, decaffeinated coffees still have enough caffeine content to actually disrupt their sleep. You can, however, drink a decaf coffee up to 6 hours before sleep. So if you need some extra energy late in the afternoon, it is your best option.
There are also people who don’t metabolize caffeine efficiently. And so they can feel the effects of coffee longer than the average person. In which case, it is advisable not to drink coffee after lunch – even decafs.
4. Alcoholic beverages
Chugging down a bottle or two of beer or 1-2 glasses of wine at night can sure help you fall asleep faster. It’s led many people to believe that they promote a well-rested evening. But sleeping is not true resting if you don’t get enough of it or if you wake up every now and then. Research has shown that drinking alcoholic beverages actually causes you to wake up frequently during the night.
In a review of 27 studies linking alcohol intake to sleep quality, it was found that alcohol does not improve a person’s quality of sleep. The review appeared in the April 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
According to findings, alcohol did enable healthy people to fall asleep faster and get deep sleep for some time. However, it reduces their rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the only phase during the sleep cycle when the body recovers and prepares itself for the waking part of the day. Sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus emphasizes that compared to other phases of sleep, REM is the more mentally restorative part. A disturbed REM sleep will then keep your mind from de-stressing and cause drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, and memory problems from the time you wake up until you finally get a good quality sleep.
Researcher Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at The London Sleep Centre in the United Kingdom, says that alcohol causes disturbance in the second half of the sleep cycle. He added that alcohol also suppresses the normal breathing pattern, which may eventually predispose an individual to develop sleep apnea, a medical condition that results in the pausing of breathing during sleep.
The more alcohol you drink before sleep, the more pronounced these negative effects will be. It is recommended to limit alcoholic beverage intake to 1 to 2 servings and to drink them 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. To ensure good sleep, it is best you avoid it.
5. Fatty food
That slice of meaty pizza or that large serving of burger and fries may be irresistible at dinner time. But eating fatty foods is bad for your sleep.
Scientists conducted a study at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. They found that foods high in fat may decrease the quality of sleep in humans. They placed rats on a high fat diet for 8 weeks to investigate its effects on sleep, carefully monitoring their sleep-wake cycle and comparing them to rats which were maintained on their regular diet. Results revealed that the sleep cycle of rats which were on a high fat diet turned for the worst. While these rats slept for longer periods than those on regular diet, they had more fragmented sleep and had difficulty staying awake during the day. Why is this?
Researchers suggest that it is possibly related to orexin or hypocretin, a brain chemical that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Orexin stimulates wakefulness, and a lack of this neurochemical causes daytime sleepiness. It is believed that orexin deficiency is the main cause of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes an individual to be extremely sleepy during daytime and suddenly fall asleep any time during the day, without warning. In the study, rats who received high fat foods regularly had decreased sensitivity to orexin, resulting in disturbed sleeping patterns.
A separate study assessed the link between daytime sleepiness and alertness with the meals participants ate. 31 healthy, non-obese individuals aged between 18 and 65 years and were normal sleepers were monitored. They found that those ate fatty foods were more likely to feel sleepy during daytime than those who ate less of them, or didn’t eat them at all. Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, the principal investigator of the research and professor of psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, also says that eating high fat foods decreases a person’s mental alertness.
6. Red meats
Some foods like milk, peanut butter, and cheese contain healthy amounts of protein that promote a restful sleep. They are best taken with high-carbohydrate foods for an even better sleep. Red meats are rich in protein. While they are great for weight loss, they contain too much protein. If not paired with carbohydrates during a nighttime meal and when eaten in excess amounts, red meats and other high protein foods can prevent you from sleeping well.
Unlike carbohydrates which are fairly easy to digest, the body has a hard time breaking down protein. Eating a hearty serving of red meats and foods rich in protein prior to sleep will force your digestive system to do some hard work, even during REM sleep when it’s supposed to be relaxing. Protein-rich foods also contain tyrosine, an amino acid that stimulates the brain and keeps you awake. And yet there are more reasons why you should be avoiding protein-only meals at night.
Indeed, a meal that only has protein in it is satiating. But the absence of carbohydrates leaves you with a feeling of fullness that is uncomfortable enough to actually keep you from falling asleep. Even if you do fall asleep, it is a heavy meal nonetheless. The problem with sleeping right after a heavy meal is that it will cause gastric acids in your stomach to regurgitate. This will damage your esophagus and possibly result in Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) wherein you will regularly experience regurgitation of stomach content, especially after eating more than what you can handle. The reflux of gastric acids while sleeping may not always cause GERD, but it may disturb your sleep.
Red meats are also high in fat, another no-no before bedtime. It is advisable that if you eat high protein food before bedtime, you consume only a limited amount and eat it with carbohydrates. Because red meats, like any protein food, contain tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep.
Cereals are typically eaten during breakfast but some folks enjoy making snacks out of them throughout the day. Pairing them with milk in the evening is said to promote sleep, especially since milk has some protein and tryptophan. But this sleep-inducing effect depends largely on what kind of cereal you are eating before going to bed. Majority of the cereals available in the market today have excess amounts of sugar.
The main reason why cereals are recommended for encouraging sleep is because it is a high-carbohydrate food. Carbohydrates are quite easy to digest so it doesn’t take much toll on your body during sleep. And because they are paired with milk, a food highly acclaimed for its benefits with regards to sleep, it is no wonder that some people would eat a bowl of cereal at night. Eating cereals rich in sugar unfortunately cancels these beneficial effects. How so?
The sugars added into cereals are often simple sugars, which are easier absorbed and used up by the body. Eating high-sugar cereals will then cause your body to use up these sugars, resulting in a surge of blood sugar levels. An increased blood sugar will give you what is popularly known as a “sugar rush” and keep you awake longer. This would then shorten your sleep and greatly reduce its quality.
Once your blood sugar levels go down, you will start to fall asleep. That sounds good, right? Not exactly. During your sleep, your body will try to compensate and release stress hormones like cortisol. These stress hormones will interfere with your REM cycle, the restorative phase of your sleep. And you will wake up without feeling any less stress or fatigue. You will feel tired, like you didn’t have any sleep at all.
When it comes to cereals, avoid varieties that have added sugars. Opt for low-sugar, whole-grain cereals. They can still give you the carbohydrates you need to induce sleep, minus the sugar that will keep you from getting adequate rest.
8. Vegetables and fruits
People say that vegetables are good for you. But this is not the case with some vegetables, especially when you’re trying to have a good night’s sleep.
Cauliflower and broccoli make nice examples for this. These vegetables contain tryptophan, the same amino acid present in proteins that regulates sleep. Tryptophan does this by assisting in the production of serotonin, a hormone that induces sleepiness. Unfortunately, cauliflower and broccoli are also high in roughage. The roughage makes them difficult to digest. If you eat these vegetables too close to sleeping time, you will still be able to get some shut eye. But your body will take time in digesting them, preventing it from relaxing completely.
Other vegetables that are high in fiber or roughage are bran, cabbage, leafy greens, celery, squash, beans, and white mushrooms. These are veggies you can freely enjoy throughout the day except at night. Some fruits like oranges and raspberries don’t make ideal bedtime snacks either. They are also high in roughage and will leave your digestive system with hard work even during sleep.
You should stay away from tomatoes too. Tomatoes are acidic and will result in indigestion and heartburn. These two will make you uncomfortable and make it difficult to sleep. Better stay away from tomatoes and any food slathered with tomato-based sauces like pastas and pizzas!
Of course, there are exceptions. You can eat some fruits and vegetables without actually having to worry about sleeping problems. Bananas help promote sleep because they contain the sleep-promoting substance, tryptophan. Cherries contain melatonin, a substance that induces sleepiness. One study shows that drinking tart cherry juice prior to bedtime experienced improvements in sleep duration and sleep quality among adults that suffered from chronic insomnia. Lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedating properties and can therefore relax your brain.
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