You could be the picture of perfection when it comes to eating early in the evening, not watching TV all night on the couch, and even curling up in an ideal 68-degree, batcave-like bedroom. So, why are you experiencing insomnia? Taking a closer look at nutrition research, you’ll see that what you eat before bed can play a big role in how well you hit the hay.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.” There’s both acute insomnia (which can occur conditionally and based on “life circumstances”) as well as chronic insomnia (which “occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months”).
Both conditions can be influenced and exacerbated by environmental factors. As it turns out, it’s not just stress or blue light from your devices’ screens that can sabotage your sleep cycle. If you’re suffering from insomnia, can’t sleep soundly through the night, and can’t figure out why, look no farther than your diet.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that chocolate treat after dinner isn’t doing your REM any favors. “As a nutritionist who also struggles with falling and staying asleep, I know firsthand what can wreak havoc on our sleep cycle,” shares Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. “Chocolate is a hidden source of caffeine. That means taking a forkful of your favorite souffle or chocolate ice cream may be the very thing keeping you up. The caffeine in chocolate causes increased arousal, and decreases the ability to develop and sustain the deeper stages of sleep.”
2. Fried Chicken
Fried chicken might be a classic comfort food, but eating some before heading off to sleep isn’t ideal. High-fat foods take longer to digest and often cause bloating and indigestion that interfere with a sound night’s rest.
3. Dried Fruit
Consuming too much dried fruit can bother your stomach and cause you to have gas and cramps during the night, according to nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN. “This is thanks to their high-fiber, low-water content.” Come morning, don’t eat ’em, either. They’re one of the top foods nutritionists wish you would stop adding to your overnight oats.
4. Hot Peppers & Spicy Foods
“I love recommending hot peppers as an easy way to boost metabolism, but consuming them late in the evening can trigger heartburn in sensitive individuals,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. “Also, their thermogenic properties can increase the body’s core temperature.” Because your core temperature naturally decreases as you get ready to sleep, raising it can cause you to feel more awake and struggle with staying asleep. So keep the hot and spicy options for your healthy breakfast ideas.
5. Hot Sauce
Like hot peppers, hot sauce is another food that can keep you up at night. The explanation for this one is a bit different, though: “Hot sauce gets its heat from the compound capsaicin found in chili peppers,” offers Hayim. “Capsaicin can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open for longer than usual, causing intense feelings of heartburn,” she warns. Sounds like an equation for one spicy mess, if you ask us.