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We can blame all kinds of circumstances on a poor night’s sleep: staying up too late, stress, worry, bed partner snoring. too hot, too cold or electronics. However, there is a common contributor to a restless night that many people overlook: the foods they eat before trying to fall asleep.
What you eat in the evening can directly affect how well you sleep. If trouble falling asleep and staying asleep plagues you, take a look at these best and worst foods to eat before bed.
Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed
Let’s start with the worst foods to eat before retiring for the night.
Some foods are definitely better than others, for inducing and protecting sleep. And some foods provide too much energy or burden the digestive system. The following foods are the worst to eat before bed.
Tomatoes and other acidic foods can create problems for those with acid reflux. The burning pain and discomfort in the esophagus when lying down keeps sleep at bay.
Enjoy tomatoes earlier in the day and balance their acidic nature with non-acidic foods.
Strong or aged cheese, along with other preserved foods, contain high levels of the amino acid tyramine, which makes us feel more alert. Tyramine causes the adrenal glands to release the “fight or flight” hormone that stays in the body for several hours, hampering the ability to quickly fall asleep.
Additionally, cheese has a higher fat content which slows the digestive system and directs blood flow to the stomach. This causes the body to shift energy to digesting food rather than sleeping.
Go easy on the curry, hot sauces and chili peppers in the evening. These foods can trigger acid reflux as well, keeping you awake at night. Plus some spicy foods contain capsaicin, a chemical that elevates the body’s core temperature, disrupting sleep and making you feel alert rather than sleepy.
The high level of caffeine in chocolate, especially darker chocolates, not only keeps you wide eyed, it also affect REM sleep. REM, or rapid eye movement, occurs more frequently with caffeine in the body, making you feel groggy the next morning.
Also avoid drinks with caffeine in them before bed, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks.
Some people enjoy a bowl of ice cream before bed, or a bowl of cereal. For the best night’s sleep, avoid both.
These foods are high in sugar and too much of the sweet stuff affects your ability to stay asleep. Sugar creates a spike in blood sugar levels. Then the crash occurs, while you sleep. The adrenal glands perceive that crash as an emergency, which cause them to increase cortisol levels and wake the body from sleep.
Plus, if you have a dairy intolerance, ice cream (and cheese) can cause inflammation and bloating, making it even more difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep. (Click HERE for symptoms of dairy intolerance.)
Potato and other kinds of chips dehydrate the body due to the high salt levels. The body responds by retaining water, causing thirst, which may wake you or create restlessness. The next morning the body feels tired and fatigued.
And researchers found that greasy foods, like chips, contribute to nightmares. Those bad dreams may wake you, heart pounding in fear. With adrenaline pumping through the body, it can take hours to go back to sleep.
Foods high in protein make it difficult to fall asleep. Those heavier foods sit in the stomach and make you feel overly full. Plus they require more energy to digest, causing the body to focus on the stomach rather than falling asleep.
Wine is often consumed for its relaxing effect, however, it can hinder sleep.
While you may fall asleep initially, after a glass or two of wine, it keeps the body from full REM sleep, which is where deep rest and dreams occur. You are also more likely to wake frequently during the night, after drinking wine. And it can lead to snoring as it relaxes muscles. Snoring disturbs your sleep and others’ rest also.
Best Foods to Eat Before Bed
And now for the best foods to eat, to encourage a great night’s sleep.
Tart cherries act as a natural sleep aid, thanks to their high melatonin content. Melatonin is a hormone that lets the body know it’s time to sleep. Tart cherry juice works just as well as a cup of fresh cherries.
Besides being rich in antioxidants, carotenoids and vitamins C and E, kiwi contains serotonin. This sleep hormone contributes to healthy REM sleep. Low levels of serotonin may cause insomnia.
Kiwi also provides folate, which helps prevent insomnia as well.
Herbal teas do not have the caffeine that keeps the body stimulated and awake. Plus herbal teas such as lemon balm, passionflower and chamomile offer sedative effects that reduce anxiety and soothe the body toward rest.
These healthy nuts not only boost brain and heart health, they promote a good night’s sleep also.
Walnuts are an excellent source of melatonin. Plus they provide ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s converted to DHA in the body. DHA increases serotonin levels, which helps the body relax into sleep.
This power food is a great source of tryptophan, and also rich in folate, magnesium and vitamins B6 and C, all key factors in creating serotonin and melatonin.
Spinach also contains glutamine, an amino acid that stimulates the body to release cellular toxins that can create sleeplessness.
High in potassium and magnesium, bananas help muscles relax, which allows the body to fall asleep.
The magnesium in bananas affect quality of sleep as well, by extending the amount of time spent sleeping. Bananas contain tryptophan too, that the body uses to create serotonin and melatonin.
Sweet potatoes contain vitamin B6, which boosts melatonin and prepares the body for sleep. Eating a sweet potato in the evening helps you feel relaxed and sleepy.
This food is another one that contains tryptophan, which promotes the creation of serotonin and melatonin. Make sure it is low sugar or better yet, sugar free. For a great evening snack, pair peanut butter with sliced bananas or apples.
Bonus food: apples are excellent sources of potassium and vitamin B6, both helpful for promoting sleep. Plus the vitamin C in apples lowers blood pressure, manages blood sugar levels and improves breathing, all of which contribute to a good night’s sleep.
How is Your Sleep?
How are you sleeping? If falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up refreshed are problematic for you, pay attention to what you eat before bed.
Knowing which foods negatively affect sleep…and which ones promote it…allows you to make healthy choices for night time snacking. As a result, you may find yourself falling asleep faster and sleep longer.
Did one of your favorite foods fall into the best or worst food categories? Awareness helps you make a difference!
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.