12 Tips for Better Sleep: Part 5 – Avoid Meals and Beverages Before Bed
I don’t want to blame your mom’s lasagna for your terrible sleep, but it may be a contributing factor. The other guilty party is you. Let me explain.
First of all, your mom made delicious lasagna and you can’t resist it. This alone won’t ruin your sleep, especially if you eat it at a normal dinner time. However, the lasagna is so irresistible that you go for seconds right before bed. This is where the problem begins.
While it can be nice to go to bed with some comfort food in your belly, acid reflux and normal digestion can disrupt your sleep. And that’s the last thing your mom wants.
Here’s what your body does every time you eat:
How Digestion Works
There are a lot of things happening in the digestion process. So, I’ll let Gastroenterologist Dr. David Poppers, MD, PhD, and associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, explain it to you:
“Digestion is a pretty complex process that can be simplified like this: food moves through your stomach, down the gastrointestinal tract and into your small and large intestines. There, enzymes and muscle contractions help to further break down your meal so the particles can be absorbed by your body. The leftovers, or waste, are delivered to the colon. Thankfully, this process is automatic.”
Your body has a job to do right after you eat, and it’s going to get the job done whether you’re sleeping or not. So, if you want to avoid uncomfortable “muscle contractions” at bedtime, don’t eat a big meal right before bed.
Another sleep ruiner you need to consider: acid reflux. This is when stomach acid refuses to stay where it’s supposed to, moves up your esophagus, and causes chest pain. The worst part is that some of our favorite foods – lasagna, tacos, and chocolate ice cream – are the worst heartburn culprits.
When to Eat Dinner
When planning your dinner, make sure to give your body enough time to digest your meal before hopping into bed. This is what Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, nutritionist, and founder and director of Real Nutrition, suggests for your nighttime eating schedule:
“I recommend eating dinner at least two hours before bed and then, depending on the person, a small snack may be helpful in aiding sleep. … Really, you only want to eat before bed if you are truly hungry and you want to ensure that hunger pains won't wake you up in the middle of the night”
Ok, we’ve been given permission to eat before bed, but it just shouldn’t be a late-night trip to the a taco truck. So, what should we eat before bed that won’t make us too full or too hungry to sleep? The answer: a lean, light snack.
Here’s what Amy Shapiro recommends:
“Usually, carbs or foods containing some carbs (think warm milk, fruit, or crackers) can help to drift you off to sleep, as the sugars hit the serotonin in the brain and can aid us to sleep. Alternatively, sugary snacks like candy, dried fruit, or juice can disrupt sleep, as they may cause a sugar crash that can wake you up in the middle of the night."
And Dr. Poppers recommends sticking to a 150 calorie, protein-rich food, like cottage cheese, if you need a snack before bed. This won’t disrupt your sleep and will actually boost your metabolism and make you less hungry in the morning.
When it comes to snacking before bed, it’s all about being mindful of what you eat. Aimlessly eating while watching TV because you’re bored isn’t a good reason to snack. Eat healthy snacks that won’t disrupt your sleep and eat only enough to avoid night awakenings.
What to Eat Before Bed
Just to recap, here are good snack options before bed:
- Foods high in carbohydrates
- Foods containing tryptophan, melatonin, and phytonutrients (e.g. cherries)
All of these foods have been linked to improved sleep outcomes.
Do Not Eat
- Foods rich in sugar
- Foods with caffeine (see our post on the effects of caffeine on sleep) (include link to post), green tea, etc.
These foods have been shown to contribute to insomnia and can cause sleep disruptions.
Drinking Before Bed
Fluids right before bed isn’t a good idea. Not because of super complex process in your body, but because of a super simple process. If you have a lot to drink right before bed, you’re going to have to pee during the night.
Now, this could go one of two ways. Either you wake up to go to the bathroom, which disrupts your sleep. Or you don’t wake up to go to the bathroom, leaving your sleep uninterrupted, but you’ll have extra laundry to do in the morning and your partner will be super mad at you. The choice is yours.
Just like exercising before bed, your body needs some time to recover from a large meal before you can comfortably fall and stay asleep. So, schedule your meals to prepare your body for sleep, and make sure you’re eating food that will optimize your sleep.
For more tips on how to improve your sleep, find the right pillow, and then check out our past posts:
Part 2—Exercise at the Right Time
Part 3—Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
Part 4—Avoid Drinking Alcohol