Sleep problems are near epidemic in modern society. You already have heard many of the tips to create the ideal environment for sleep–a darkened room, no light from electronics like computers or cellphones, reserving the bedroom for sleep and keeping out work and entertainment clutter. But if you are taking all these steps and still having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, you might take a look at your inner environment for some sleep-killing culprits. Here are six food categories to avoid in the evening hours or before you sleep, if you want a good night’s sleep.
1. Avoid Coffee in All Forms
We already know that it is a bad idea to have a cup of coffee at bedtime. However, it is surprising how little caffeine it takes to give you a jolt, and how long that jolt can last. Even a late afternoon cappuccino can cause wakefulness at bedtime, as can coffee-flavored desserts such as ice cream. And skip the decaf as well–even decaffeinated coffee contains low levels of caffeine.
2. Alcoholic Beverages
While a glass of wine seems to make you sleepy, it actually lowers the quality of sleep you get. Because it metabolizes quickly into the bloodstream, it causes you to wake up multiple times during the night, and the periods of wakefulness mean that you spend less time in deep REM sleep of the kind that makes you feel the most rested in the morning. Moreover, alcohol before bed can increase your tendency to snore!
Chocolate contains caffeine, and the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it has. A Hershey’s milk chocolate bar holds as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee, and Hershey’s Special Dark has the equivalent of a half a shot of espresso. Chocolate also contains theobromine, a stimulant that raises the heart rate.
4. Cheeseburger and Fries
After a long night at the club, a trip through the drive through seems like just the thing, but the high fat content in typical fast food like burgers and fries puts stress on the digestive system and causes production of stomach acid that can cause heartburn. Lying down to sleep can allow the acid to back up into the esophagus, increasing that burning sensation. For the same reason, you will want to leave that leftover pizza in the fridge alone as well!
5. Citrus Fruits
Many fruits like cherries and bananas contain nutrients that help promote sleep. However, steer clear of citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. The high acid content, especially on an otherwise mostly empty stomach, can lead to heartburn and acid reflux. For the same reason, avoid orange juice at bedtime.
While water is generally good for you, too many calls from nature in the middle of the night will disrupt the critical REM sleep cycle. A good rule of thumb is to cut back on fluid intake about two hours before bedtime to ensure restful sleep.
In general, our bodies are not meant to be digesting food while sleeping. So if you do need a bedtime snack, stick to a small amount of an easy to digest carbohydrate like bananas, a cup of applesauce, or a small bowl of cereal with milk. This places minimal stress on the digestive system and allows your body to reserve energy for the important healing and maintenance processes that healthy sleep promotes.