It’s 10 p.m. and you’re all set to get a good night’s rest, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to shake that gnawing feeling of an empty stomach. But with so many choices in your pantry and fridge, healthy or otherwise, it’s tough to decide which one you should choose.
Though there are some snacks that you would (and should) easily reach for during the daytime, choosing the wrong late-night food can damage the quality of your sleep while also sabotaging any weight loss goals that you have set for yourself. And because your body repairs your muscles while you sleep, it’s important to get a peaceful night of rest to build up your muscles and prepare for the next day’s workout.
So, what are the worst foods that you can eat at night? And what are some alternatives to these foods, just in case you’re craving that specific flavor? Here are the top five foods you shouldn’t reach for if you’re looking to get some quality sleep.
1. Dark chocolate
Though you may snack on dark chocolate during the day when you’re craving something sweet, it’s one of the top foods that can keep you awake for hours after your bedtime. Health states that dark chocolate is one of the healthiest forms of chocolate that you can put in your body because of its high levels of antioxidants, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, then it may keep you up. Half of a Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar contains 20 milligrams of caffeine, which is the same amount as half an ounce of espresso.
Dark chocolate also contains theobromine, a mild stimulant that promotes alertness for more sustained periods of time than caffeine. Theobromine’s effects are milder than caffeine’s, so you may not even realize that you’re feeling more energized, but when it comes time to sleep, it may be the reason that you can’t.
Try eating carob chips instead of dark chocolate the next time it’s late — they are similar to cocoa in that they come from a pod of a tropical tree, yet they contain no caffeine. Bodybuilding.com suggests eating a handful of these instead of the dark chocolate if you’re looking for that rich, slightly sweet flavor at night.
2. Ice cream and yogurt
Ice cream, a food notorious for its high sugar and fat content, should be an obvious no-go when it comes to late-night foods, but yogurt, even of the Greek variety, should also be avoided. Fitness recommends straying away from high-protein foods once the sun goes down, and Greek yogurt can contain as much as 17 grams per single-serving container. The protein here will give you an energy boost, which can result in you getting less sleep. If you’re going with a type of yogurt that isn’t Greek but is instead flavored, then you’ll want to watch out for the sugar content, as eating excess sugar before bed can make it easier for your body to pack on unwanted pounds.
You should avoid ice cream at night because of all of the extra work your digestive system has to do to process the high amount of fat content in the food. Bodybuilding.com says that because of this fat content and your hard-working digestive system, you may experience disturbances in your sleep, and it’s even worse if you’re choosing to eat a flavor of ice cream that contains caffeine, such as coffee or chocolate.
If you’re really craving some dairy before you go to bed, then try eating an ice cream made from rice milk or coconut milk. Today’s Dietitian states there is much less protein in these dairy-free alternatives. Just be sure to watch your portion size and sugar content. You can find pints of these ice creams that have less sugar than ordinary cow’s milk ice cream. Go for plain or vanilla to avoid any excess sugar caused by syrups or flavoring.
Though you may have a few glasses of wine with your dinner and feel slightly drowsy, don’t be fooled. Wine along with other forms of alcohol can lead to a disastrous night of sleep. Amerikanki discusses how the dehydrating effects of alcohol can have a negative effect on repairing muscle growth and restoring energy levels while you’re sleeping. Though you may have felt like you slept the proper number of hours during the night, your body will feel much less restored.
Alcohol is also known to make insomnia worse, so if you’re already having a difficult time sleeping, then you should stop drinking a few hours before you’re aiming to go to bed. If you do indulge in a drink or two before sleep, don’t be surprised to find that you may wake up a few times in the middle of the night, with sleep disruptions occurring with more frequency in the second half of the night.
If you are planning on going out drinking, then try to cut down on the drinks a few hours before your projected bedtime. If you’re just looking for a soothing late-night drink, try sipping on caffeine-free herbal teas such as peppermint or chamomile for their relaxing and stress-relieving properties.
4. Spicy foods
If you find yourself reaching for the Tabasco to put on a nighttime snack (it’s low in sugar and high in flavor, after all), then you may want to reconsider. Dr. Mercola’s site says the indigestion commonly caused by spicy foods can ruin your chances of getting a good night’s rest. Even if you remain unscathed by the effects spicy food can have on your stomach, you may then fall victim to body temperature changes that can keep you awake.
Capsaicin, an active ingredient in chili peppers, is speculated to be the cause of changes in your sleep because of elevated body temperatures during your first sleep cycle. These changes can cause sleep disruptions that last throughout the entirety of your night. Hot foods have also been linked to the production of more nightmares, so if you find yourself having stranger dreams than usual, then this may be the cause.
Instead of reaching for hot, spicy foods at night, consider crackers made from nuts or stone-ground sesame seeds with a hummus spread. The hummus may have that boost of flavor you’re looking for, and these healthier alternatives to typical crackers will satisfy your hunger. If you’re dead-set on eating something spicy, then try buying a chipotle-style hummus for a little bit of a kick without the sleep disruption.
5. Fried foods
Fried foods may make you feel lethargic after you eat them, but they ultimately will do more harm to your sleep than good. According to The Huffington Post, foods like fries and chips take a much longer time to digest than other foods — it can take hours to fully digest something that’s fried and high in fat. When you go to bed right after you’ve consumed these types of foods, you may have stomach pains, cramps, and acid reflux, resulting in poor sleep quality.
Even if you decide to snack on something that’s not deep fried, it’s very possible that foods such as sausage, steak, potatoes, tortillas, and high-fat cheeses can also cause sleep disruptions because of their fat content. When consuming these foods, heartburn and abdominal bloating can make it very difficult to fall asleep, so be sure to eat them hours before your bedtime.
If a hearty meal with plenty of texture is what you’re after, then avoid the fried, high-fat foods, and go for complex carbohydrates. Ecowatch suggests whole-grain breads, pastas, and brown rice as healthful snack options. You can also try making baked alternatives to all of your fried favorites. It’s easy to bake up a butternut squash, zucchini, or sweet potato with whole-grain breading for a crunchy and healthy nighttime treat.