Sleep Better. Don’t Eat These Foods
Lots of families have home remedies, passed on through generations, to aid sleep.
Warm milk. A shot of hot brandy. Some cocoa just before bed.
Turns out, there is a strong connection between what you eat and how well you sleep. But it’s not what most of us think.
A new study out of Columbia University just uncovered a group of foods that get in the way of your sleep.
Foods that are high in fat are difficult to digest. So if you’re eating a steak for dinner only a few hours before bed, you may very well be interfering with your night’s rest.
Not to mention, if you give your digestive system extra work to do—especially while you’re lying down—you’re also courting problems like acid reflux and heartburn.
On the other side of the spectrum, fiber actually aids sleep. Because fiber helps to regulate your blood sugar—and also aids digestion—it ensures that you don’t go on any wild sugar rides, and your digestive system isn’t working overtime when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.
In fact, the results of the study were bigger than you’d think. Compared to participants who ate a high-fiber, low-fat last meal of the day, those who consumed an unregulated meal—often with plenty of fat—took about 50% longer to get to sleep.
And once asleep, they slept more fitfully.
In other words, if you want to sleep well, load up on fruits and veggies at night, and skip the red meats and cheeses.
But that’s not the end of the story. High fat foods are the most recently studied, but there are plenty of others we already know interfere with a good night’s rest.
Sugar and carbs
Eating sugar or simple carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar to spike. If you eat either before bed, you’re dumping a lot of energy into your body just when you want to quiet it down.
You’ll also cause an insulin spike, which cleans out your blood of sugar, leading to a blood sugar crash, which leads to midnight snacks.
That’s a very unhappy cycle to get caught up in. At dinner, it pays to skip dessert.
Excitotoxins are additives used to make foods taste better. Glutamate and aspartame are the most well-known.
And excitotoxins are very dangerous. They’ve been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, and stimulate neurons until they burn out.
Consequently, there are those who think that excitotoxins can be linked to a number of degenerative brain diseases. That’s enough reason to stay away.
But if you need another—a brain with bits that are literally being excited to death isn’t exactly in a restful state.
I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve seen with sleep trouble, who discover that sleep isn’t the problem—it’s food allergies.
Of course, this won’t apply to everyone. But if you’re suffering from sleep troubles, try removing certain foods, or types of foods, from your diet and see if that makes a difference (gluten is a great place to start, followed by dairy).
Give it about a week or so. If your sleep returns to normal, congrats—you’ve just diagnosed the problem.
This should go without saying, but it’s worth a reminder anyway.
Any stimulant—like caffeine—is going to affect your body’s ability to sleep. You shouldn’t have coffee or tea anywhere close to bedtime.
But not just coffee. Dark chocolate, while a healthy food, also contains stimulants that can make it difficult to get to sleep.
And even some depressants—like alcohol—can have a stimulating effect on some people.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, avoid all adulterated products and see if it makes a difference. Caffeine is especially sneaky, since it tends to affect us more as we age. It’s easy to miss the warning signs when you haven’t changed any old habits.
How you sleep is very affected by what you eat. If you’re having trouble sleeping, look to your food before anything else.
The odds are very good that’s where you’ll find your problem. Luckily—with a little self-control, and plenty of fiber—that’s where you’ll find your solution as well.
- Olney, JW, Excitotoxins in food, Neurotoxicology, 1994 Fall; 15(3):535-44
- Alice G. Walton, How Diet May Be Linked To The Quality Of Our Sleep, Forbes, Jan 17 2016
Last Updated: September 2, 2020
Originally Published: September 1, 2014