By: Rachel Gore
hile most of us know not to chug an espresso before bed if we hope to get a good night’s sleep, coffee isn’t the only treat that can keep you up at night. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep night after night, there is a chance your diet is a contributing factor. Here are some of the top foods that could be causing you to lose sleep:
Caffeinated foods and beverages
Many of us know that caffeine is an energy-booster—hence many people’s daily morning coffee habit. But just how long before bedtime should you cut yourself off from caffeinated food and drink? The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that healthy adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. For reference, that’s around four cups of coffee. But consuming even that approved amount can lead to major disruptions in your sleep schedule. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine six hours before going to bed reduced sleep by a full hour.
Besides coffee, other sources of caffeine include soda, tea and dark chocolate. Chocolate and coffee-flavored ice creams and other desserts may also contain just enough caffeine to affect your sleep if you eat them late at night.
While not unhealthy, spicy foods like hot sauce, curry or hot peppers can have a negative impact on your sleep schedule. A study conducted by a team of Australian researchers found that study participants slept less overall and took longer to fall asleep on nights when they were fed spicy meals. This is because spicy foods can lead to an elevated body temperature, heartburn and indigestion, all of which can impair sleep.
High-fat diets are linked to poor sleep as well. Sleep lab studies found that individuals with high-fat diets were more likely to wake up throughout the night than those without them. They also spent less time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep each night, which is the stage of sleep crucial to waking up feeling energized and alert.
Individuals with high-sugar diets sleep less deeply and are more restless at night. Unfortunately, high-sugar diets are the norm in the United States. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a maximum of six teaspoons of added sugars per day for women and nine teaspoons for men. But scientists from the University of California San Francisco found that Americans consumed an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day in 2019. Additionally, these sugars aren’t always easy to identify—those same researchers found over 60 names for sugar on food labels.
If you have ever struggled to stay asleep throughout the night after having one too many, you aren’t alone. Drinking alcohol before bed produces the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine, which makes it easier to doze off. Staying asleep, on the other hand, becomes less likely with alcohol consumption. You are more likely to wake up throughout the night and suffer from a lower quality of sleep that causes you to wake up feeling tired. Alcohol can also cause you to snore, which may impact the sleep of anyone next to you in bed.
Caffeinated food and beverages, spicy meals, high-fat foods, added sugars and alcohol have all been scientifically linked to a worse night’s sleep. Of course, that does not mean you need to give them up for good. However, it may make sense to limit your intake of these types of foods or stop consuming them at night if you think your diet is contributing to sleep loss.