There are a lot of different theories on foods that affect sleep, as well as what quantities that should be consumed before bed. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Everyone is different, so if you find that some foods on list of suggestions to eat before bed bother you, don’t eat them before bed (or at all). The most important aspect is to listen to your body, and follow through with what works for you!
Caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol are the biggest disruptors of sleep, and may be exceptions to the “listen to your body” rule. Please just trust on this one, and don’t consume them close to bedtime, even if you feel it doesn’t negatively affect your sleep. You may feel like you have no trouble falling asleep after a cup of coffee or chocolate dessert, but they prevent the brain from reaching deeper levels of sleep, meaning the quality of sleep is poor.
Similarly, you may feel alcohol helps put you to sleep, but the sleep is fragmented (even if you feel you sleep soundly) and the quality is poor. Alcohol is tricky like that. You may think is makes you sleep well, or dance better, but it’s not reality. Even if you’re a great dancer, alcohol and sleep don’t mix. If you’re not ready to stop drinking completely, at least take a break before bed.
As for quantities, do what feels right for you. If you wake up in the middle of the night with abdominal pains caused by hunger, or have trouble falling asleep because you’re uncomfortably hungry, you should eat more before bed. Be careful not to take this to the other extreme. If you eat too much before bed, your body will need to focus on digesting that food, instead of all the other tasks involved with quality sleep.
What about timing? A small snack about 30 minutes before bed is fine, but in general, larger meals should be consumed earlier. Again, you don’t want to go to bed too hungry, but you also don’t want to overeat.
Now that you have a basic idea of how much to eat before bed and when, let’s talk about food options.
First of all, not all carbohydrates and fats are created equal.
Simple and processed carbohydrates should be avoided, but complex carbohydrates are okay. That means you should skip the white bread and sugary cereal, and choose a sweet potato instead.
Fats that are difficult to digest, such as greasy sausage and bacon, should be avoided. Plant-based fats such as avocado and coconut are good substitutes. One pre-bed exception is turkey, because it does contain sleep-inducing properties. Again, listen to your body. If you try turkey before bed, keep track of how you sleep. Do you wake up feeling rested?
Be careful with traditions, like drinking a glass of warm milk before bed. This came from the concept of breastfeeding to induce sleep in infants and small children. However, cows’ milk is not the same, and humans tend to lose their ability to tolerate milk as the years go by. Especially in adults, milk can be difficult to digest, and disrupt sleep. Instead, try a cup of herbal tea. Remember, decaffeinated tea is not the same as caffeine free, as decaffeinated tea still contains some caffeine.
Those are the general rules, but we’ll provide a couple quick and easy lists of suggestions.
Good Pre-Sleep Choices:
- Herbal tea (caffeine free, not decaffeinated)
- Dark cherries
- Sweet potatoes (relax muscles and prevent cramping)
- Bananas (relax muscles and prevent cramping)
- Brown rice
- Fish (smaller quantities, or early enough to prevent digestion difficulty)
Bad Pre-Sleep Choices
- Too much food
- Too little food
- Spicy food
- Heavy, greasy food