Trouble Sleeping? 5 Foods That Disrupt Your Sleep Schedule

Young girl tired and lying on the bed

What if your diet could help you sleep better? | Tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images

There are some obvious drinks you don’t reach for if you’re trying to catch some extra sleep — coffee being one of them — but most people don’t consider what they eat close to bedtime or its potential influence on their sleep schedule. Turns out your food could be to blame for those random nights where you toss and turn with no sleep in sight.

We’ve cracked the case on the six foods that are the worst offenders. If you have trouble getting your nightly Z’s, try holding off on these items that could be sabotaging your sleep schedule.


Chocolate bar on the wooden background

Bar of chocolate | al62/iStock/Getty Images

“This chocolate is addicting,” is likely an old adage you’ve either said or heard. It’s not just a general statement though — it’s the truth. Chocolate contains caffeine, unbeknownst to many, and eating it as your after-dinner dessert or late night snack could be bad news for your brain.

“Everyone is aware that coffee can keep them awake; what they’re not necessarily appreciating is there’s caffeine or related items in many other things that they consume,” Carl Hunt, M.D. told WebMD. The National Sleep Foundation reported that the effects of caffeine, including that found in your food and snacks, can cause people to fall asleep as much as 10-12 hours later than normal.

Can’t lay off that night-time piece of chocolate? Keep in mind that the darker the chocolate, the higher its caffeine. While milk chocolate still contains some, it’s the lesser of the two evils for your sleep cycle.

Broccoli and cauliflower

overhead shot of raw broccoli florets

Bowl of raw broccoli | Source: iStock

Your healthy dinner side dishes may also be the cause of your restless nights. While these veggies pack plenty of nutrients, they also contain a lot of fiber, which eaten too close to bedtime can be tough on your stomach to digest. This keeps your body working into the night while you’re trying to get some rest.

By no means should you cut broccoli and cauliflower out of your diet — some of their nutrients actually benefit your sleep — but try not to incorporate them into a late dinner or dish.

Spicy foods like chili


Chili is your worst enemy before bed. | Source: iStock

There’s nothing like pad thai or chili for a spicy, savory dinner. Plus, the leftovers make a great late-night bite. Problem is that acidic foods cause heartburn, and lying down only makes heartburn worse. That discomfort will keep you tossing and turning and likely sitting up during your resting hours.

Avoid beans, beef, hot sauce (yes, we’re creating your favorite chili with this recipe) and any other spicy snacks close to bedtime. Studies have found that eating these foods doesn’t just reduce the amount of sleep you get, but can hurt your sleep quality by raising your core body temperature.

“Put down the Pad Thai – spicy or acidic foods before bed can cause heartburn, so lying down for a snooze may worsen symptoms,”  Abbott nutritionist Pamela Nisevich Bede said. “The discomfort alone is often enough to disturb a good night’s rest.”


raw steak

Steak isn’t just bad for your sleep schedule. | Source: iStock


By now you know steak isn’t one of your healthiest protein choices — it can raise your cholesterol, increase your risk of being overweight or obese, and it doesn’t do any favors for your digestive system. Fatty foods that are high in protein — such as steak — digest slowly and can disrupt your deep sleep if eaten too close to bedtime.

Are you a red meat fanatic? We recommend cutting back. High-fat and high-protein diets have been linked to sleep apnea as well. Bede recommends giving your system a few hours to digest red meat before you hit the hay.


French fries

French fries

Step away from the greasy potatoes. | iStock/Getty Images

Any kind of fried, fatty potato — whether it be a fry, chip, or late-night breakfast sandwich — can mess with your routine. Unfortunately, fried food is what people tend to crave most late at night, especially when alcohol is involved. One or two fries won’t hurt you, but a whole order could contribute to bad heartburn and indigestion, both of which we’ve found prevent a good night’s sleep.

“High-fat and flavorful foods tend to cause GI distress and heartburn havoc, and if you’re trying to lie down, heartburn is bound to be exacerbated,” Bede said. “This also means you won’t be able to sleep — you’ll be too busy wondering when the pain will subside.”

Try these late-night snack options instead

While most doctors recommend you stop eating by 8 p.m. or two hours before bed for weight maintenance and loss, sometimes cravings just hit — and refuse to be ignored. These are some healthier options you can reach for that won’t prevent you from catching some shuteye.

  • Bananas
    • Rich in muscle-relaxing magnesium
    • Contain serotonin and melatonin
  • Almonds
    • Contains tryptophan and magnesium
  • Honey
    • Stimulates the brain’s melatonin and shuts off orexin (keeps you alert)
  • Turkey
    • One of the most famous sources of tryptophan and known to make you tired

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