We’ve said it once, but we’ll say it again: sleep is imperative. It’s practically the foundation of overall wellness. From eating balanced meals to having a proper nighttime routine, your daytime habits impact your sleep. Proper rest leads to a happier, healthier you. Although most people know sleep is essential, few prioritize it. In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of adults get insufficient sleep. As a toddler mom and career woman, I get it. Quality sleep isn’t always in the cards. My secret weapon? Knowing which foods to avoid before bed.
That’s right. Your bedtime snack (and for that matter, your dinner!) has more of an impact on your sleep than you realize. With this in mind, knowledge is power. Knowing which foods disrupt sleep will help you make more mindful choices and prioritize sleep-promoting ingredients.
Feature image by Michelle Nash.
Restful Sleep Relies on Balanced Blood Sugar
Before we dive into foods to avoid before bed, let’s back up. One of the key components to restful sleep is balanced blood sugar. Blood sugar, or glucose, is our main source of energy. We get it from the foods we eat. In many ways, our diet can either make or break our blood sugar. When blood sugar is managed throughout the day, you have a higher chance of getting restorative sleep.
However, even partial sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance. In turn, this can increase blood sugar levels. As a result, a lack of sleep is associated with diabetes, a blood sugar disorder. Main takeaway? Balanced blood sugar leads to restful sleep, and restful sleeps leads to better managed blood sugar. It’s a two-way street.
What happens to blood sugar while you sleep?
Blood sugar levels surge while you’re sleeping. For someone with a normal sleep schedule, the surge happens between 4 and 8 a.m. (this is called the dawn effect). In a healthy person, insulin can handle the surge by telling muscle, fat, and liver cells to absorb the glucose from the blood. This keeps your blood sugar levels stable. For those who have diabetes—or experience chronically mismanaged blood sugar—insulin can’t do its job very well. Thus, in the middle of the night, blood sugar levels rise. This can disrupt sleep, as well as cause high blood sugar in the morning.
Foods That Spike Blood Sugar
With an understanding of blood sugar under your belt, let’s dive into foods that spike blood sugar. These, of course, are included in foods to avoid before bed.
White Grains (Refined Carbs)
White grain-containing foods, such as white bread, pasta, and rice, are all examples of refined carbohydrate sources. They’re delicious, but much of their fiber is removed during processing. Unfortunately, without fiber, blood sugar soars. When it comes to enjoying pasta for dinner, aim to pair it with a simple salad as well as a source of protein.
Apart from containing substantial amounts of sugar, drinks like soda, sweetened iced tea, and even fruit juice contain virtually no protein, fat, or fiber. They’re blood sugar-bombs. What’s more, these drinks don’t actually aid in satiety.
Love your oat milk? There are a few reasons to drink oat milk in moderation (consider swapping it for whole milk, almond milk, or coconut milk on the daily). Trending oat milks are very high in refined carbs and often high in sugar (unless you buy unsweetened). This is a double-whammy for blood sugar. If you like to enjoy a bowl of cereal before bed, opt for a blood sugar-friendly milk and low-sugar, high-fiber cereal or granola.
Fried foods—and fast food, in particular—are an easy way to send blood sugar soaring. Sure, no one is calling fast food a health food, but we tend to think about hamburgers and french fries being high in only calories and fat. The truth is, fast food items tend to also be high in sugar. Some popular drive-thru burgers actually contain as much sugar as a candy bar!
Dried fruits can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. They’re a source of quick energy and taste delicious in granola and trail mix. That said, it’s important to pair dried fruit with protein (string cheese, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, etc.) as well as a source of fat (walnuts, almonds, olives, etc.) to keep blood sugar balanced. Dried fruit is an energizing pre-workout snack, but it’s one of the foods to avoid before bed.
10 Foods to Avoid for a Better Night’s Sleep
Without further ado, these are foods to avoid for a better night’s sleep. While it’s not about never eating these foods again, it’s about being mindful of how they may impact your shut-eye. Rest assured, there are plenty of delicious swaps to satisfy your sweet—or savory—bedtime craving.
It may seem like a cocktail, a few beers, or couple glasses of wine help you fall asleep. However, there are three solid reasons not to drink alcohol (especially in excess!) before going to bed. First, alcohol interrupts your natural sleep cycle later in the night. This can decrease the amount of restorative REM sleep that you get.
Secondly, consuming alcohol relaxes all the muscles in the body which can exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea and loud snoring. Lastly, alcohol tends to cause acid reflux, which is no fun when you’re trying to go to sleep. We know it’s not the same, but there are delightful non-alcoholic wines on the market.
While grapes have *some* melatonin in them, they’re packed with (natural) sugars. If you’re going to nosh on grapes close to bedtime, stick to a smaller portion and pair them with a bowl of full-fat Greek yogurt and walnuts. In terms of blood sugar management, eating a big bowl of fruit—especially before sleep—can lead to a blood sugar spike. In turn, this can further lead to insomnia. Additionally, fruit is acidic, which means it can trigger heartburn as you’re trying to fall asleep.
Like grapes, bananas are mostly made up of fast-digesting carbs. These are great pick-me-up energy sources (and helpful for period cramps!), but not necessarily something to nosh on before bed. Instead, bananas are ideal pre- or post-workout, paired with fat and protein. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, reach for a lower-glycemic option, like blackberries or raspberries. That said, keep in mind that for some, fruit after dinner can cause indigestion.
Dietary fats—like those in full-fat dairy—take a long time to digest. While that’s helpful in balancing blood sugar during the day, it’s not ideal before bed. Caveat: yogurt. Unlike a slice (or three) of cheesy pizza before bed, Greek yogurt is a satiating late-night snack that works to promote sleep. It’s also packed with important nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin B12, and potassium. In addition, it is also full of probiotics—good bacteria to boost digestive health while you sleep.
This goes without saying, but there are plenty of foods that have sneaky sources of caffeine—think: ice creams and desserts with matcha, espresso, and coffee (matcha-flavored mochi, coffee ice cream, tiramisu, etc.). Many of these desserts, even with their subtle coffee flavors, act as stimulants. They make it more difficult to slip into deeper stages of sleep, decreasing the amount of REM sleep you would normally get. Best to enjoy these kinds of treats earlier in the day!
Acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus, can irritate the stomach lining and elevate acidic pH levels in the body. This triggers indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux—all of which can interfere with sleep. Cooking tomatoes won’t reduce the acidity enough to prevent acid reflux either, so next time you’re making pizza for dinner, try whipping up fresh pesto instead.
As much as we savor our bars of chocolate, we’ve learned the hard way not to eat our coveted squares too close to bedtime. While chocolate—particularly dark chocolate—boasts plenty of health benefits, it contains a compound called theobromine that affects the body similarly to caffeine. Opt for chocolate as dessert after lunch, or in the mid-afternoon with a spoonful of almond butter.
Can soy sauce impact sleep? Research say, yes. Fermented soy products have some of the highest amount of tyramine—an amino acid found in fermented foods. Think: soy sauce, tofu, miso, and even teriyaki sauce should be avoided hours before snoozing. Tyramine can increase brain activity and is potentially linked with sleeplessness.
While garlic has a very high concentration of allicin (a compound that can naturally help the mind relax), it’s also a gastrointestinal stimulant. For most, it’s best to avoid eating large amounts of it in the evening. Furthermore, garlic increases your body’s production of saliva and gastric juices, which could take away from your ability to easily drift off to dreamland.
Onions are one of the top offenders when it comes sleep disruptors. Onions create gas as they move through your digestive system. That gas affects the pressure within your stomach, which can send acid back up your esophagus—especially when you’re lying down flat. Sadly, both raw and grilled onions have this effect. Try swapping onions for fennel, leeks, or cabbage (when making dinner).