Ask a Dietitian: What Foods Should I Avoid Before Bed?
Having trouble sleeping? What you’re eating could be a contributing factor.
Certain foods or dietary habits can make getting to sleep or staying asleep difficult. Whether you're eating too much or eating the wrong types of foods, these things can inhibit your body's ability to relax. Before bed, you want to make sure you're eating healthy foods that your body is able to digest easily, avoiding bloating or discomfort, while also limiting energy-boosting drinks and snacks.
Read on for our top 5 foods to avoid before bed.
As most people know, caffeine can be a contributor to poor sleep due to its stimulatory effects. It’s not just coffee that contains caffeine, however, green and black tea, dark chocolate, energy drinks, and some cough syrups are also sources of caffeine. In fact, even decaf coffee contains some caffeine. Everyone metabolises caffeine at different speeds so sensitivity differs between individuals. Some people may be able to get away with coffee with dinner, while others may need to cut it out from midday! If you’re feeling wired when it comes to bedtime, perhaps consider your caffeine intake for the day.
Another culprit when it comes to sleep quality is alcohol. While it may feel like you fall asleep very easily after drinking, the quality of the sleep is just not the same. We have two sleep phases REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. Alcohol can block REM sleep, which is our deep, quality sleep. Even if you feel like you’ve slept through the night, you are likely to feel far less rested in the morning, having missed out on the REM sleep. Not only this, but alcohol acts as a diuretic, so your slumber may be interrupted by trips to the bathroom. Lastly, alcohol causes your body to relax, including the muscles of your throat, making you more prone to snoring or sleep apnoea.
High fat or very large portion sizes
Meals high in fat can also affect sleep quality. Whether this is your typically less healthy fats (think fried foods) or your heart-healthy unsaturated fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil), these foods are digested slower, meaning when consumed in excess you may go to bed with food still in your stomach. The acids released to digest this fat can contribute to heartburn or reflux, particularly when lying down. Similarly, if your evening meal is too large, not only will you feel uncomfortable when trying to sleep, but your digestive system will still be working hard to digest the meal when you’re attempting to sleep.
If reflux is effecting your sleep, there may be other factors outside of the fat content of your evening meal triggering these symptoms. Other common triggers for reflux are acidic foods- such as citrus and tomatoes, spicy food and for some people, even alcohol, chocolate, and peppermint can contribute to these symptoms. These foods may need to be avoided or minimised before sleep for those experiencing reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Consuming large amounts of sugar pre-bed can also be problematic for sleep. Sugar is broken down in the body and released as energy very quickly. This can result in a hit of energy, just when you are trying to lie down to sleep. So, minimising processed sugar in the evenings can be useful for getting to sleep.
So what should you eat before bed?
Ideally, finish your evening meal 2-3 hours before bedtime. Choose:
- A good quality protein source (consider turkey—a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, our melatonin pre-cursor)
- A good dose of vegetables (bonus points for our Magnesium-rich leafy greens to help with muscle relaxation)
- A serve of heart-healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, oily fish)
- Some low GI carbohydrates (brown rice, legumes, potato, sweet potato).
And stick to water, herbal tea, or plain milk when it comes to evening beverages!
Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian.
Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.
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