4 Foods That Can Hinder Sleep (and 3 That May Help You Sleep)

What you eat may lead to a restless night, or even keep you awake. Learn which foods to avoid near bedtime if you want a good night's sleep.

Here's a not-so-surprising statistic: More than three in 10 Americans gets less than seven hours of sleep each night. That means many of us are falling short of the National Sleep Foundation's recommendation to get between seven and nine hours of shuteye a night. It's not just about how long you're under the covers either—the quality of your sleep matters, too.

4 Foods Bad for Sleep

To help you get to sleep—and stay asleep—it's helpful to know which foods can help and which can hinder a night's rest. These foods prevent sleep, either by keeping you awake, or disturbing your slumber.

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Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat Diets

Ketogenic Diet book and ingredients
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The popular ketogenic diet (and others similar to it) may help you lose weight, but could hinder your sleep. In studies in which people ate variations of low-carb, high-fat diets (some of which included participants going into ketosis), researchers found subjects' REM sleep (that's the kind of sleep critical for memory) was reduced and their middle-of-the-night wake-ups increased. Interestingly, though, their slow-wave sleep, which is the deep sleep that restores you, increased. Unlike other studies looking at diet and sleep, changing when you eat your low-carb, high-fat diet (for example, at least four hours before bedtime) doesn't seem to matter. However, the research is limited on the timing of this diet as related to sleep.

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Caffeine

Cinnamon Coffee
Blaine Moats

Many of us drink coffee throughout the day for its caffeine; it's a delicious stimulant. But that's the key word: stimulant. As you might expect, research shows consuming caffeine before bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, plus overall sleep quality is reduced. Another interesting finding: older adults may be more sensitive to caffeine than younger ones. Per a review study, there isn't a universal cutoff before bedtime to stop drinking coffee. Some people experienced sleep disturbances if they drank coffee six hours before bed, others weren't impacted by drinking coffee three hours, or even one, before going to bed. Because caffeine is the sleep stealer, don't forget about less obvious sources of caffeine like chocolate, tea, and colas.

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Alcohol

flight of beer varieties
Blaine Moats

A glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail might help you fall asleep, but it hinders restful slumber. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it turns on the alpha activity in your brain, which is supposed to happen when you're quietly resting, not sleeping. Alcohol also throws off your circadian rhythms and blocks REM sleep.

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Sugary Drinks

several sugary drinks with straws
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When researchers (in a very small study) gave kids either milk with glucose (which is straight sugar) or milk with honey an hour before bed, the kids who drank the glucose-spiked milk woke up more during the night than their counterparts who drank honey milk. The milk with glucose is considered to be high glycemic index (GI), meaning it causes a quick spike (and then fall) in blood sugar and insulin. (Conversely, the honey milk is low GI, causing a slower rise and fall in blood sugar and insulin.) Other high glycemic index drinks are sodas, sports drinks, and rice milk. Although this study was quite small, other research has found an association between lower sleep quality and people who regularly drink sugar-sweetened beverages.

There are other foods that some believe can impact your sleep, including spicy foods, which may cause heartburn, or natural diuretics like celery, parsley, tea, or alcohol, which lead to extra middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. There isn't a lot of research around these yet.

Foods That Help You Sleep

Fortunately, there are also foods that can encourage sleep. According to a review study in the journal Advances in Nutrition, these three foods show promise for helping you get a good night's rest.

  1. Tart cherries or tart cherry juice: a double dose of cherries each day (this could be an eight-ounce glass of tart cherry juice, like R.W. Knudsen Tart Cherry Juice ($6.98, Walmart), in the morning and at night or about a cup of fresh cherries after lunch and dinner) may help you get more sleep and boost your your levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.
  2. Kiwifruit: eat two kiwifruits one hour before bed and the research suggests you'll sleep longer and have a less restless slumber.
  3. Milk: drinking a glass at night, up to 30 minutes before bed, may help you sleep more soundly.

If a good night's sleep is a top priority (and, let's be real, we all need it), be mindful of the food and sleep connection. There's another reason restful sleep is key: people who don't get enough Zs are more likely to eat less healthy foods (such as fats and white, refined carbohydrates) than people who are well-rested.

All of this said, there's one caveat. How much a food disturbs your sleep varies from person to person, especially in younger adults. If you don't typically eat before bed, adding even one of these "good" foods to your routine might be more of a hinder than a help. If you do typically eat closer to bedtime, adding one to your pre-sleep routine is more likely to help.

Consider doing a little research on yourself before you completely eliminate from or add one of these items into your evening routine. You need to find out what helps you rest best.

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