Getting a good night’s sleep can help cut your risk for a number of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, and stroke to name a few. When you sleep well, you also have better focus and improved performance. Certain foods can help you fall asleep faster, while others can keep you awake, disturb sleep cycles, and affect your sleep quality.
In those hours leading up to sleep, experts say to avoid the following food and drinks:
Nutrition experts recommend avoiding coffee within six hours of bedtime, because “it can take six to eight hours for your body to process and eliminate the caffeine you consume in one sitting,” says Kristine Dilley, lead outpatient dietitian in nutrition services at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. But this can vary by age because some people become more sensitive to caffeine as they get older and may need more than eight hours to process caffeine, says Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
While alcohol might make it easier to fall asleep initially, it does not necessarily lead to better overall sleep quality, says Dilley.
“The second half of your slumber will likely be more interrupted and full of strange dreams, as alcohol consumption promotes waking up often and missing out on deep sleep cycles,” Dilley said. “If you enjoy a cocktail in the evening, consider pairing it with dinner instead.”
3. Large meals
Eating a larger meal two to three hours before bedtime can make it more challenging to fall asleep. Experts recommend giving yourself time to digest before turning off the lights.
“Many people skimp on their meal and snack intake throughout the day to save calories for a more indulgent meal in the evening. This can backfire and leave you feeling stuffed. It also increases the chance of heartburn or indigestion,” says Dilley. “It is better to spread your calories more evenly throughout the day, and then take your time and savor the evening meal.”
4. High-fat foods
Try to avoid heavier meals high in fat right before turning in for the night.
“Eating large amounts of fat slows down digestion and can cause heartburn, leaving you feeling uncomfortable, which can interfere with sleep quality,” says Dilley. “There’s also research to suggest consuming high-fat foods later in the day can disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to fragmented sleep.”
5. Spicy foods
Spicy food can be a trigger for indigestion and heartburn, according to Dilley, so you may need more than a couple of hours before bed to digest those foods.
Experts say these lifestyle and nutritional changes are most effective when paired with sleep hygiene practices.
“While we have evidence that there are certain foods that might impact sleep, we should think about it within the context of creating overall healthy sleep habits,” says Erica Jansen, research assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan. “That includes turning off technology before bed, having a calm relaxing bedtime routine, having a good sleep environment, like a cool dark space to sleep. Also what we do during the day, light exposure in the morning, physical activity, and trying to address the major stressors in our life … that all goes a really long way to impacting sleep alongside the foods.”