It might feel like the world is conspiring against your ability to relax, find inner peace, and catch enough nightly sleep. The reality is, it’s completely OK and normal if you lose your balance every now and again.
Timeless #selfcare advice — such as exercising, meditating, getting some sunshine, eating well, and sleeping enough — still apply, no matter the chaos around you. To specifically help you out with the latter two, which are very much linked, we asked pros to weigh in on which foods might just be sabotaging your sleep schedule.
It might come as a surprise, but aged cheeses, including parmesan, cheddar, gorgonzola and swiss, can wreak havoc on your slumber. “Some are high in a substance called tyramine, which leads to release of the excitatory chemical, norepinephrine,” says Bishara. “Norepinephrine causes increased alertness and brain activity, thus preventing you from sleeping.” Other foods that are high in tyramine include cured meats (such as salami and pepperoni), pickled and fermented foods, alcohol and tomatoes. You can certainly eat aged cheeses (we’re not here to ruin the fun!) but consume them earlier in the day.
Spicy foods such as hot sauce and peppers offer a nice zing, but they can definitely put your body through the ringer. “Spicy foods tend to increase body temperature, leading to increased heart rate and possibly sweating, making it difficult to fall asleep,” says Dr. Christine Bishara, a board-certified internal medicine specialist. They can also cause or worsen heartburn, which can both keep you from falling asleep or wake you up in the middle of the night. Not ideal.
You probably don’t have to say goodbye to spice altogether, but do stick to consuming these foods earlier in the day.
Similar to spicy foods, acidic foods can cause heartburn that’ll leave you tossing and turning. Lindsey Kane, a registered dietician and the director of nutrition for Sun Basket says, “Everyone has their own tolerance to these foods. Most people can have them during the day, but some cannot tolerate them at all. Just be mindful and adjust to your personal needs.” Acidic foods include oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit, tomatoes and red peppers.
Foods High in Water Content
You might be able to guess where we’re going with this one… “Hydrating foods — such as watermelon, cucumber, celery, smoothies, melon, and berries — can lead to a full bladder, which can disrupt sleep via nighttime trips to the bathroom,” says Kane. Why not pair hydrating fruits with whole grains and protein for a nourishing breakfast — many hours before bed?
Meals High in Fat, Protein or Fiber
Who doesn’t love putting away a hearty meal? It’s totally OK to eat these foods in moderation; in fact, your meals should consist of a healthy combination of all three (plus carbs)! The caveat is that you ought to do so well before hitting the hay. “These nutrients tend to take longer to digest and thus should be consumed two to three hours prior to bed to avoid disruption of sleep,” explains Kane.
Sweets & Sugary Foods
A sugary nightcap like ice cream or cake sounds great… until you find yourself struggling to get some shuteye. Kane says that the spike and subsequent fall of blood sugar levels associated with high-sugar foods is not ideal before bed. “The sugar surge will elicit a burst of energy, getting you amped up when you’re really trying to wind down. This is followed by a dramatic crash, which may allow you to fall asleep at first, but your quality of sleep will suffer as your body attempts to stabilize the blood sugar pendulum swing throughout the night,” she explains.
While chocolate definitely fits into the sugary category, it gets its own callout since it contains caffeine and high levels of a substance called theobromine. “Theobromine gives dark chocolate its potent antioxidant health benefits; it’s also a mood lifter,” says Dr. Bishara. “However, it also increases our state of alertness and leads to sleeplessness.” A square of dark chocolate post-lunch? Yes, please.
Eating late at night is generally a no-no since your body’s digestion process can prevent you from sleeping as deeply as you might like. However, going to bed super hungry can have the same sleep-sabotaging effect. If you’re in need of a little something after working late into the night, consider any of these sleep-friendly snacks:
- Nuts: Dr. Bishara suggests cashews, walnuts and almonds — they are all high in magnesium, which can help the body relax. Walnuts also contain tryptophan, which has a similar effect.
- Bananas: Both Kane and Dr. Bishara give bananas five out of five stars for bedtime snacking. They’re high in magnesium and tryptophan, which help relax your body and can even prevent muscle cramping through the night. Throw in a little almond butter and you’re golden.
- Eggs: This protein-packed favorite doesn’t have to be reserved for breakfast! Dr. Bishara says eggs contain melatonin and tryptophan which help the body relax. They’re also filling, so they can help curb hunger. Try hard-boiled for an easy nighttime snack.