6 Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed (and What to Eat Instead)

Woman eating pizza and drinking cola while sitting on sofa

It’s almost your bedtime and you want a snack. But you have heard somewhere that eating after dinner or too close to bed is bad for you, so you’re not sure if you should eat something or ignore your hunger and try to sleep. What do you do?

 

The advice out there regarding late-night snacking is certainly confusing and a bit unclear. The truth is, some foods are better to eat than others when the clock says it’s almost time for bed. What you eat before bed has the potential to make or break the quality of your sleep.

 

In this article, you’ll learn more about the worst foods to eat before bed, what to eat instead, and other health tips to help you catch more Z’s.

 

Should you eat before bed?

Before jumping into the worst foods to eat before bed, it’s important to debunk the popular diet myth that you should never eat past 7:00 p.m.

 

While it’s true that eating too close to bed or choosing the wrong late-night snacks can be problematic, the fact of the matter is that there is no hard-and-fast rule on what time you should stop eating for the day. Everyone’s days begin and end at different times, with meals and snacks dispersed differently during waking hours as well.

 

As an example, it can be perfectly healthy for a person who goes to bed very late due to work or other obligations to eat before sleeping. Going to bed too hungry can keep you tossing and turning the same way eating the wrong foods can.

 

It may take some trial and error to find what and when to eat before bed. Fortunately, research has been done that may provide all the tips you may need.  

 

A recent study found that those who ate one hour or less before bed had more nighttime awakenings despite longer overall sleep duration when compared to those who ate more than one hour before going to sleep.1 While longer sleep duration may sound great, this could actually mean feeling more tired in the morning or even sleeping through an alarm clock due to sleepiness caused by waking up throughout the night.

 

However, a different study from 2015 showed that eating a small, protein-rich snack before bed was actually beneficial for some people and improved muscle synthesis.2 The researchers also concluded that the effects of nighttime eating could be minimized with regular physical activity.

 

Of course, there were limitations to both studies, and researchers felt that more research is needed on the topic.  

 

Worst foods to eat before bed

 

Eating just before bed isn’t always a bad thing. It’s all about choosing the right foods that won’t mess with your sleep and avoiding the foods that will.

 

Below are the 6 worst foods for sleep and the reasons why they could wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

 

1 – Foods that are high in added sugar

woman eating brownie

You may be familiar with the feeling of a sugar rush. And while having one occasionally may not be a big deal, you don’t want a sugar rush just before it’s time to go to sleep.

 

Eating too much added sugar before bed and throughout the day has been associated with less restorative sleep and more overnight awakenings.3 This kind of poor sleep could leave you feeling sluggish and brain-fogged the next day.  

 

2 – Caffeine

Caffeine has many benefits, like boosting energy and even enhancing athletic performance.4 But this somewhat addictive substance can also have a few drawbacks, especially if consumed too close to bedtime.

 

A review on caffeine’s effects on sleep quality reported that high caffeine intake has been associated with more tiredness in the morning time.5 And having caffeine from coffee, soda, or an energy drink close to bedtime can certainly be problematic.

 

In fact, a study from 2013 found that caffeine intake 0, 3, or 6 hours before bed played a significant role in sleep disruption.6 This means that even that afternoon pick-me-up could be messing with your precious sleep.

 

3 – High-fat foods

Fat is an important macronutrient that your body needs every day. But having a meal or snack that’s high in fat just before bed could spell trouble.

 

Eating too much fat just before bed could cause you to take longer to fall asleep. Eating high-fat foods late at night could also cause you to experience less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, an important stage of sleep.7

 

Learn how ZYTO can help you choose the best foods based on the body’s unique energetic responses.

 

4 – Alcohol

You may think that drinking alcohol before bed will help you achieve better sleep. And while you may fall asleep quickly after drinking, the quality of your overall sleep will most likely suffer.  

 

Drinking alcohol has been linked to shorter overall sleep duration. And heavy alcohol consumption could cause insomnia or disruptions in your circadian rhythm.8

 

5 – Spicy foods

chips and salsa - worst foods to eat before bed

Not everyone loves spicy foods, but if you do you may want to avoid eating them too close to bed.

 

In a small study, consuming spicy foods in the evening resulted in disturbed sleep.9 Study participants who ate spicy foods took longer to fall asleep and experienced increased total time awake.

 

Spicy foods could also make conditions like gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, much worse at night, causing sleep disruptions from side effects like heartburn, coughing, and indigestion.10

 

6 – Acidic foods

Like spicy foods, acidic foods, including citrus fruits and tomatoes, can cause some tummy troubles that have the potential to keep you up at night.

 

Acidic foods are notorious for causing issues like heartburn and indigestion that can easily cause you to be unable to sleep. An analysis of data on people both with and without GERD found that heartburn was reported to be associated with sleep disturbances.11 In fact, heartburn was the number one factor for poor sleep in the study.

 

What to eat instead

By now, you’re probably wondering what foods to choose when you need a pre-bedtime snack. Fortunately, not all hope is lost for those who like the occasional late-night snack. But it’s not just about what you eat but also when you eat that can make a difference.

 

When it comes to meal timing, spacing food out as evenly as possible throughout the day may be best. Eating the bulk of your daily calories or even saving your largest meal for last could be troublesome and cause gastrointestinal symptoms that could make sleep difficult.10 Plus, there is evidence that suggests eating too late in the day could disrupt your circadian rhythm.12

 

As previously mentioned, there’s no set rule regarding an exact time to stop eating for the day. However, giving your body as much time as is comfortable to digest before bedtime is always a good idea. If you’re still working on digesting a large meal as you’re trying to fall asleep, then you could find yourself dealing with some unpleasantries like gas and indigestion.

 

With this information in mind, you may be thinking that you should never eat before bed. And while it should take about 3 hours for a meal to leave your stomach and enter your small intestine, sometimes you just need a little something to get you through the night.

 

Going to bed hungry could have you tossing and turning. So, if you find yourself feeling some hunger pangs as you’re getting ready for bed, you do have options.

 

Here is a look at the best nutrients to reach for before bed:

  • Foods containing tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin in your body, may help you sleep better. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate your brain’s sleep center. Tryptophan consumption from foods like cheese, milk, eggs, and seeds has been associated with increased total sleep time and more efficient sleep.13
  • Many people use melatonin supplements to help them sleep. But did you know you can also get melatonin from foods like tart cherries, eggs, milk, goji berries, and nuts? Melatonin is thought to reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep and modulate your circadian rhythm.14
  • Magnesium is an important mineral that does many things for your body, including helping you sleep. Eating magnesium-rich foods, like whole grains, almonds, bananas, seeds, and yogurt, before bed could increase melatonin levels in your body and help you relax.15
  • A deficiency in vitamin D has been associated with sleep disorders. And people with higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies have also been found to have better overall sleep patterns, including less daytime sleepiness.16 You can find vitamin D in dairy products, fatty fish, eggs, and fortified cereals and juices.
  • If you’re an athlete, you may want to consider eating more protein before bed. Intake of protein before bed has been linked to better muscle synthesis during sleep.17 Pairing protein with low glycemic carbohydrates at night can help athletes and non-athletes alike achieve better digestion.
  • Iron deficiency can cause sleep disorders, among many other issues.18 Because of this, eating foods that contain iron, like fortified cereals, nuts, beans, and tofu before bed could be beneficial.

 

Other tips for a good night’s sleep

happy young woman sleeping in bed

While some nutrients from certain foods may help you get more rest at night, an overall healthy lifestyle may be all it really takes to improve your sleep quality.

 

You probably already know that sleep is vital to your health. This means you shouldn’t skimp on it, as insufficient sleep can be detrimental to health.19

 

One way you can make sure you catch enough Z’s is to improve your diet. A recent review from 2020 concluded that while specific nutrients have been studied for their beneficial effects on sleep, the best thing to do is to eat a wide variety of foods including carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals.20

 

When it comes to physical activity, it may be smart to follow those public health guidelines for how much movement your body needs each day. A study from 2015 found that people who completed at least 150 minutes of exercise per week for 6 months had improved sleep and less insomnia than those in the control group.21 And in case you were wondering, the CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week to maintain health.22

 

For some, achieving better sleep may be possible once stress is reduced. Many people lie awake at night due to stress. In fact, one study found a significant association between stress and sleep quality in medical students, a population notorious for facing high stress.23

 

Finding ways to reduce stress could lead to better sleep. Following a healthy lifestyle complete with a nutrient-rich diet and regular physical activity is one way to reduce stress. Other ideas for stress reduction include finding a hobby you enjoy, creating boundaries, talking with friends and family, and practicing self-care.

 

Closing remarks

Sleep is a basic necessity, which means getting enough is imperative to living a long, healthy life.

 

Now that you know how important sleep is, you may find it easier to avoid the worst foods to eat before bed. But if you find yourself hungry before bed, there are still plenty of better-for-you food options. Some may even help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer!

 

If you’re concerned about your quality of sleep, talking with a healthcare provider may be step one on your road to better sleep. Improving other areas of your lifestyle may be just what you need to get more sleep.

 

 

 

About Brittany Lubeck
Brittany Lubeck is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition, and began her career as a clinical dietitian. Brittany has always enjoyed research and loves that she can help people learn more about nutrition through her writing.

 

 

 

Sources:

1.. Iao, S.I., E. Jansen, et al. “Associations between bedtime eating or drinking, sleep duration and wake after sleep onset: findings from the American time use survey.” British Journal of Nutrition 127, no. 12 (2021) :1888-1897.

2. Kinsey, A.W., & M.J. Ormsbee. “The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives.” Nutrients 7, no. 4 (2015): 2648-2662.

3. St-Onge, M.P., A. Roberts, et al. “Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 12, no. 1 (2016): 19-24.

4. Guest, N.S., T.A. VanDusseldorp, et al. “International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance.” Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition 18, no. 1 (2021).

5. O’Callaghan, F., O. Muurlink, & N. Reid. “Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning.” Risk Management and Healthcare Policy 11 (2018): 263-271.

6. Drake, C., T. Roehrs, et al. “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 9, no. 11 (2013): 1195-1200.

7. Crispim, C.A., I.Z. Zimberg, et al. “Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 7, no. 6 (2011): 659-664.

8. He, S., B.P. Hasler, & S. Chakravorty. “Alcohol and Sleep-Related Problems.” Current Opinion in Psychology (2019): 117-122.

9. Edwards, S.J., I.M. Montgomery, et al. “Spicy meal disturbs sleep: an effect of thermoregulation?” International Journal of Psychophysiology 13, no. 2 (1992): 97-100.

10. Vernia, F., M. Di Ruscio, et al. “Sleep disorders related to nutrition and digestive diseases: a neglected clinical condition.” International Journal of Medical Sciences 18, no. 3 (2021): 593-603.

11. Vakil, N., B. Wernersson, et al. “Sleep disturbance due to heartburn and regurgitation is common in patients with functional dyspepsia.” United European Gastroenterology Journal 4, no. 2 (2016): 191-198.

12. Poggiogalle, E., H. Jamshed, & C.M. Peterson. “Circadian regulation of glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in humans.” Metabolism 84 (2017): 11-27.

13. Binks, H., G.E. Vincent, et al. “Effects of Diet on Sleep: A Narrative Review.” Nutrients 12, no. 4 (2020): 936.

14. Meng, X, Y. Li, et al. “Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin.” Nutrients 9, no. 4 (2017): 367.

15. Barbagallo, M., N. Veronese, & L.J. Dominguez. “Magnesium in Aging, Health and Diseases.” Nutrients 13, no. 2 (2021): 463.

16. Wang, M., T. Zhou, et al. “Baseline Vitamin D Status, Sleep Patterns, and the Risk of Incident Type 2 Diabetes in Data From the UK Biobank Study.” Diabetes Care 43, no. 11 (2020): 2776-2784.

17. Trommelen, J., L.J.C. van Loon. “Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training.” Nutrients 8, no. 12 (2016): 763.

18. Leung, W., I. Singh, et al. “Iron deficiency and sleep – A scoping review.” Sleep Medicine Reviews (2020). 

19. Ramar, K, R.K. Malhotra, et al. “Sleep is essential to health: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 17, no. 10 (2021).

20. Zhao, M., H. Tuo, et al. “The Effects of Dietary Nutrition on Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Mediators of Inflammation (2020). 

21. Hartescu, I., K. Morgan, & C.D. Stevinson. “Increased physical activity improves sleep and mood outcomes in inactive people with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of Sleep Research 24, no. 5 (2015): 526-534. 

22. “How much physical activity do adults need?” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Cdc.gov.

23. Almojali, A.I., S.A. Almalki, et al. “The prevalence and association of stress with sleep quality among medical students.” Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health 7, no. 3 (2017): 169-174.

 

The information provided in this article is intended to improve, not replace, the direct relationship between the client (or site visitor) and healthcare professionals.

You Might Also Enjoy

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest ZYTO news in your inbox!

Newsletter Sign Up
Follow Us

ZYTO Newsletter Sign Up

Newsletter Sign Up