How Late-Night Meals Impact Sleep
For many people, the temptation of late-night eating is too strong to resist. When a craving hits, it’s easy to give in and take comfort in a sweet or salty treat.
The next time you’re about to reach for that bedtime snack, consider the potential consequences. Research indicates that eating certain foods too late in the evening disrupts sleep.
How Does Eating at Night Affect Sleep?
Going to sleep hungry can be detrimental to sleep, but overeating too late is worse. Your body and mind have an internal clock that signals when to sleep and wake. When you eat at night, the food acts like a signal that it’s daytime, confusing your internal clock. Your digestion kicks in, and your body starts working on processing the food.
Studies confirm that late-night eating will negatively impact your sleep. In a study of nighttime eating, researchers took several measurements of participants’ sleep: sleep efficiency, time to fall asleep, frequency of waking, and time spent in the different stages of sleep.
By comparing these measurements with what and when people in the study ate, researchers uncovered some interesting facts:
- Nighttime eating disrupted sleep patterns in all participants, but more so in women.
- Men who ate more fat at night had more disrupted sleep.
- Women who ate at night experienced disruptions to all measurements of sleep quality.
What you eat can also impact how you sleep. Research indicates that you can expect better sleep if you eat more vegetables and fish, follow a Mediterranean-style diet, and avoid too much sugar and caffeine. Specific foods that improve sleep include kiwi, almonds, and tart cherry juice.
Eat Right to Improve Your Sleep
How, when, and what you eat can all impact sleep quality. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time for better sleep. Combine your sleep-friendly diet with other sleep tips, such as exercising, sticking with a routine for bedtime, and using meditations before bed.
When it comes to food, follow these general guidelines for overall health and better sleep throughout the night:
Stop Eating About 3 Hours Before Bed
If you get hungry, stick with light snacks and avoid heavy meals or foods with a lot of fat or sugar. A kiwi or a handful of almonds can keep hunger pangs at bay without disrupting sleep.
Avoid Caffeine After Midday
Any afternoon or evening caffeine can significantly disrupt your sleep, making it more difficult to get to sleep.
Don’t use Alcohol as a Sleep Aid
It’s tempting to reach for a glass of wine to relax and get sleepy before bed, but it’s a false sleep aid. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it will wake you up more often and generally lower your sleep quality.
Limit Beverages Before Bed.
Warm milk or a hot cup of herbal tea can be great for inducing sleepiness before bed. However, this can backfire if you consume too much. You’ll wake up more frequently to use the bathroom. Stick with 1 cup of your favorite relaxing drink an hour before bedtime.
What Are the Best Foods to Eat Before Bed?
While it’s best not to eat a large meal before bedtime, a late-night snack with the right ingredients shouldn’t disturb the quality of your sleep. Some might even have health benefits and help you sleep better.
A few key ingredients to look for in your late-night snacks are:
- Tryptophan: This amino acid works to regulate your mood and sleep health.
- Magnesium: This is an essential mineral that helps you get more restful sleep, and it aids in regulating melatonin levels, which is vital to your sleep-wake cycle.
Now we’ll look at the best and worst foods to eat before bed. Firstly, here are the best sleep-inducing foods:
Cherries are a natural source of melatonin which plays a role in our sleep-wake cycle. It gets produced by our brains in response to darkness and signals that it’s time to wind down for sleep. One study showed tart Montmorency cherries to elevate melatonin levels, improving sleep duration and quality.
Being rich in magnesium, bananas increase melatonin levels which can help you get a good night’s sleep. They’re also a good source of carbohydrates, filling you up and releasing a small amount of insulin, which assists tryptophan, the sleep hormone, in doing its work.
Walnuts contain a high amount of melatonin and are a source of healthy fats. This means you’ll have no trouble falling asleep and get good sleep snacking on these.
Snack on a slice of whole-grain toast with a few slices of turkey, lettuce, and a dab of mustard before bed, and you should enjoy a good night’s rest. Lettuce, especially Romaine lettuce, contains lactucarium, which hassedative effects.
Turkey contains L-tryptophan, which gets turned into serotonin by our body, and helps to regulate mood and sleep.
Cheese and Crackers
Cheese contains calcium, which assists tryptophan, found in dairy naturally, to make melatonin. Melatonin is required to signal to our brains that it’s time to go to sleep.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken noodle soup is comforting and warming, which helps to signal the nervous system that it’s time to relax. A soothing soup is easy for your body to digest, so it won’t trigger heartburn.
Sweet potatoes are full of fiber which will keep you full, and they contain B6, which boosts melatonin and mood, helping you prepare for deep sleep.
Because of its high carbohydrate content, white rice helps to promote a state of restfulness and fullness. Be sure to stick to one cup, though, as rice is calorific. Rice also has a high glycemic index, which may help you sleep faster.
Fatty fish such as herrings, salmon, and sardines are rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids that help to regulate serotonin, which is important for sleep regulation.
One study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medication found that those who ate 10.5 ounces of salmon three times weekly over six months fell asleep 10 minutes faster each night than the group that didn’t eat fish.
The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a study that gave several people two kiwi fruits one hour before bed nightly over four weeks. This group fell into a sound sleep 35% faster than the non-kiwi eating group.
What Not to Eat Before Bed?
Now we’ll look at the worst foods to eat before bed. What you choose to snack on in the evening can impact your sleep health.
High-fat and greasy foods may cause you to experience acid reflux which can lead to indigestion, heartburn, and sleep disturbances. Also, avoid eating spicy foods or hot sauce containing capsaicin, known to cause painful heartburn.
Here are the worst foods to eat before bed:
Unfortunately, ice cream is one of the worst foods to eat before bed. It elevates your blood sugar which could make you lie awake and make it tough to get to sleep.
Milk chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, contains caffeine, which may prevent your body from relaxing and shutting down when you want to sleep. It can also reduce your body’s ability to fall into the deeper stages of sleep.
Chocolate bars have varying amounts of caffeine, but dark chocolate generally has 12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. Get your chocolate fix earlier in the day to get a better night’s sleep.
Fried foods have a high-fat content which takes a long time to digest. This can reduce your ability to fall asleep and go into a deep sleep.
Not only that, but fried foods may cause indigestion and bloat, making sleep uncomfortable. So, avoid foods such as chips, burgers, pizza, and loaded burritos before bedtime.
Raw onions often cause gas to build up in your stomach, which can cause an uncomfortable feeling. They have also been known to worsen acid reflux symptoms in those that already suffer heartburn. This makes onions one of the worst foods to eat before bed.
Acidic foods such as tomatoes, oranges, and grapefruits should be avoided before bed. They often cause heartburn symptoms to worsen, leading to sleep-disturbing acid reflux.
Fatty foods such as cakes, pastries, pizza, sausages, pies, and ice cream, to name a few, can cause bloatedness. Also, when fatty foods are eaten right before bed, your digestive system will work hard to break them down, which can interfere with sleep.
Sugary foods are the worst to eat before bedtime because they cause a blood sugar spike. When your blood sugar levels fluctuate, this can lead to a night of restless sleep.
Spicy foods are great to rev up your metabolism, but they’re the worst foods to eat if you want a restful sleep. Capsaicin, found in products such as peppers and tabasco sauce, triggers heartburn and elevates body temperature. This can make you feel more awake and make it hard to get to sleep.
Too much high-fiber food, such as dried fruit, just before bed can irritate your stomach and cause cramping. It also contains high sugar levels, leading to a blood sugar spike and the inability to get to sleep. Reach for the fresh fruit before bedtime if you fancy a fruity snack.
What Drinks Should You Avoid Before Bed?
While certain foods can interfere with sleep quality, certain drinks can worsen. Caffeinated beverages should be avoided before bedtime because they’re stimulants designed to wake you up.
Caffeine also suppresses melatonin, reducing the effects of eating melatonin-rich foods. The effects of caffeine last for about 6 - 8 hours, so have your last cup no later than 2 pm.
Drinking alcohol is another bad habit to cut out of your nighttime routine. While it may make you feel sleepy initially, it can cause sleep disruptions, making it harder to fall into the deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage.
Not only that, alcohol is a diuretic, so you might need more frequent trips to the loo during the night.
Finally, avoid drinking too much water before you go to bed. While it’s good to stay hydrated, if you guzzle too much before bedtime, you might wake up to urinate frequently.
Instead, reduce how much water you drink 3 hours before bedtime. Drink plenty of water in the morning and during the day, and then just take limited sips as you relax in the evening.
A nighttime snack is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people prefer to have a little something in their stomachs to get to sleep. Just be mindful to avoid heavy foods and stick with light snacks if you do eat before bed.
By training yourself to eat dinner earlier, you should see improvements in all aspects of sleep. For more help improving sleep quality, try out the BetterSleep app for guided meditations, soothing music, and calming bedtime stories.
Join us on a restful journey to sleep.
BetterSleep helps you fall asleep easily with soothing sounds, sleep meditations, bedtime stories, breathing exercises and much more.
Combine the different features and mix them together to create your own perfect sleep sanctuary!
Download BetterSleep now and join a community of millions of people we help guide to sleep every night.