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Want to Sleep Better? Experts Say Cut Back on These Foods

Looking for ways to improve your sleep? It may be time to take a closer look at what you’re eating before you hit the hay.

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If you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep, it might be a wake-up call to evaluate your daily habits and see what changes you can proactively make to improve your sleep and overall health. With that in mind, we asked registered dietitians for their advice on what not to eat before bed if you want to sleep better.

Bad sleep isn’t some a small annoyance. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of three adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. Research has found that when you don’t get enough shut-eye, you might feel sluggish and tired throughout the day and you may be at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases and health conditions. 

What Not to Eat Before Bed

1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

According to Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook, “It’s pretty well known that limiting your intake of sugary foods and beverages is a good idea for overall health, but you may not realize that consuming excess added sugar could lead to disrupted sleep.” 

Recent research confirms that poor sleep quality is significantly related to high sugar intake. The effect is even worse when looking at sugar-sweetened beverages that contain caffeine. While Harris-Pincus notes there isn’t specific research about consuming a lot of sugar right before bed, it’s likely that the insulin response could potentially cause blood sugar to dip while sleeping, and a resulting rise in cortisol could wake you up.  

Ideally, Harris-Pincus recommends sticking to less than 10 percent of your total calories from added sugars – not the kind found in fruit, veggies, and unsweetened dairy products. 

2. Salty Foods

Although the body needs salt to function, too many salty snacks isn’t recommended before going to bed, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table

Taub-Dix suggests eating salty foods before going to bed increases the likelihood that you’ll be thirsty and want to drink more before turning in, meaning your sleep will be disrupted by frequent bathroom visits. Furthermore, research shows salty foods can also cause fluid retention and have a negative impact on your blood pressure. If you have hypertension, your blood pressure most likely will go down while you sleep, so the longer you’re awake, the longer your blood pressure may remain elevated. 

Taub-Dix recommends laying off of salted snacks 2 to 3 hours before bed. 

3. Caffeine

Research shows caffeine consumed less than three to six hours before bedtime can compromise both sleep quality and quantity, although some people are more affected by caffeine than others, according to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and author Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN. 

Malkani shares that the majority of her clients who have wanted to improve their sleep hygiene have found avoiding caffeine after 3 P.M. to be a game-changer.  But she advises to be cognizant of other forms of caffeine, sharing, “Most people know that coffee and some teas contain caffeine but may be surprised to learn about hidden sources of caffeine in products like chocolate, some chocolate and/or coffee flavored desserts and ice creams, some pain relievers, colas, and some brands of orange and other non-cola sodas.”

4. Alcohol

“Many folks believe that alcohol helps you sleep”, says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook. “However,” she notes, “research shows this depressant actually disrupts the flow of normal sleep rhythm. A 2014 published paper in Handbook of Clinical Neurology that discusses how numerous neurotransmitters involved in wake-sleep regulation are affected by alcohol and as such, alcohol disrupts sleep in numerous ways including the flow of normal sleep rhythm.” 

Amidor suggests individuals heed health professional advice and stop drinking alcohol at least 2 hours before bed to minimize the effect of alcohol on sleep.

5. High-Fat Foods

Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins, recommends listening to the science and avoiding high-fat foods, like potato chips, mozzarella sticks, and fries (think common bar food fare) before trying to clock in those zzz’s. She reminds us that studies show foods high in saturated fat may impact the length of sleep, with less restorative sleep and more awakenings throughout the night.

Instead of blaming yourself for that late-night order of poutine, it’s important to understand biology. Davis shares, “When we are sleep deprived, our body’s ghrelin levels rise. Ghrelin is our hunger hormone that stimulates appetite. Thus, with chronic sleeplessness, you will likely increase the activity of this hormone and eat at times and volumes that are above your needs.”