7 foods that are surprisingly detrimental to your sleep quality

foods to avoid before bed

Getting a good night’s sleep can be the difference between a good day and a bad day, but did you know how much of an impact your late-night snacking could be having? Kerry Beeson, Nutritional Therapist (BSc) at meal prep service Prep Kitchen, has explained everything you need to know about eating and sleeping. 

The timing of meals can affect our sleep 

It can be hard to make sure you’re having a healthy and balanced meal every night, which means bedtime snacking might seem tempting. Meal prepping in advance can help resolve this, but it’s important to think about when you’re consuming your evening meal. 

Kerry explains: “The timing of our meals can affect our sleep. Digesting food is hard work for our body, so if we eat a big meal just before bed our digestive system will be hard at work overnight. Eat large meals at least 2 hours before bed. Fatty foods, such as cheese, chocolate, fatty meat, or chips, are particularly hard to digest so you might want to eat these at least 3 hours before bedtime.”

The seven foods to avoid before bed

Food can have a huge impact on your body and certain types can cause disturbances to your sleep, avoiding these before you settle down for the night can help improve the overall quality of your sleep. 

  1. Spicy foods 

Kerry says: “Foods containing hot spices such as mustard and types of chilli peppers can cause an increase in body temperature, heartburn and reflux at night, disturbing your sleep.”

  1. Fatty foods 

Kerry shares: “High-fat foods such as hard cheese and fatty meats can also cause heartburn and indigestion. Fats are difficult to digest, too, so if you eat them close to bedtime, your body will be working hard to digest them instead of allowing you to relax and sleep.”

  1. Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates 

Kerry explains: “High-sugar intake has been associated with poor sleep quality and duration. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are metabolised very quickly and release a lot of sugar into the bloodstream at once. This can give us a ‘sugar rush’ – exactly the opposite of what you need when you want to go to sleep. It typically takes around 1.5 to 2 hours to metabolise carbohydrates and for insulin and blood glucose levels to return to normal after eating, so avoid eating sugary foods for at least 2 hours before going to bed.”

  1. Alcohol 

Kerry continues: “Alcohol is a depressant and might initially make you feel sleepy, but can act as a stimulant and has been associated with generalised sleep disturbance and poor sleep quality. The sugar in many alcoholic drinks and mixers can also cause blood sugar spikes.”

  1. Caffeine 

Kerry elaborates: “We all know that a strong coffee before bed is likely to keep us awake, due to its caffeine content; however, you may not realise that there are other foods and drinks which contain caffeine. Tea – even green or white tea – contains caffeine, and it’s best to check the ingredients of your favourite herbal tea blends to make sure they don’t contain these ingredients. The same goes for many fizzy soda drinks, and chocolate. A hot chocolate has always been a traditional bedtime drink – the magnesium in chocolate and the tryptophan in milk may have a sedative effect, but the high sugar and caffeine content might have the opposite effect for some people, so you’re probably better off drinking a calming chamomile tea.”

  1. Junk food 

Kerry says: “As well as their high salt, sugar, or fat content, fast food often contains lots of artificial colours and other additives which have been associated with sleep disturbances.”

  1. Salty foods 

Kerry shares: “A high intake of sodium from salty foods has been associated with poor sleep quality. It can cause water retention which encourages nocturnal urination. If you’re often woken by your bladder in the night, consider whether you’re eating too much salt – aim for less than 5-6 grams daily. Sodium (in salt) also depletes our magnesium stores – magnesium helps your brain and muscles relax, plus it helps to keep levels of sleep hormones like melatonin balanced.”

The foods you can safely snack on before bed 

Going to bed with a rumbling stomach can also lead to a bad night’s rest, so if you need to snack on something before bed, Kerry has shared her top picks, but she warns you should still try to avoid eating in the hour before you go to sleep. 

  • Nut butter with oatcakes or wholegrain toast and a banana
  • A protein shake with banana
  • High-protein smoothie with cinnamon, magnesium-rich berries, banana, or mango, and silken tofu
  • Spinach omelette
  • Chicken or turkey sandwich on whole grain bread 
  • Unsweetened herbal teas:
    • Chamomile tea has been shown to have a mild sedative effect before bed
    • Cinnamon tea can help to regulate blood sugar and increase levels of serotonin and melatonin 

Kerry also shared some advice on how to choose the right bedtime snack: “You need something that isn’t too fatty and difficult to digest, but equally you need something which will not spike your blood sugar. 

“Complex carbohydrates in whole grains are slower digesting – the fibre keeps you fuller and can help prevent you from waking during the night. 

“Protein, such as lean meat or poultry, tofu, low-fat yoghurt, and small amounts of nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often considered to be good foods for sleep. Nuts also contain magnesium which is associated with better sleep – leafy greens are rich in magnesium too. 

“Lean poultry and other protein foods like nuts, eggs, salmon, or dairy products contain tryptophan – the body converts this to the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin which help to regulate sleep patterns. Bananas and oats are also good sources.”

How eating at night can impact weight loss 

It might seem counterintuitive, but eating can actually help aid weight loss. Meal prep can help you make sure that you’re getting enough protein in your meals everyday. 

Kerry explains: “Consuming protein before bed can help increase muscle protein synthesis while you sleep. This can help you to gain muscle, whether you’re doing resistance training, or if you’re an older person trying to preserve and maintain muscle mass.

“Protein before bed is also helpful as part of a weight-loss programme, as it keeps your blood sugar stable and helps to boost your metabolism.”

For more information on how you can get a balanced diet through the help of meal prep to avoid bedtime munchies, please visit: 

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