Getting a full night of sleep (8 uninterrupted hours) is essential for every day health and overall productivity during the following day. Just one night of restless sleep can take 3 days or more to get the body back into a regular sleeping pattern again, leaving a person sluggish, irritated, unfocused, and fatigued.
Many people are late-night eaters, particularly young adults who lead an active social night-life. They often consume meals past 8 pm (the typical shut-off time for grazing) and the foods they choose are most likely the reason why they just can’t seem to get a good night’s rest.
Foods to stay away from prior to sleep (foods that should not be consumed beyond 8 pm) are foods high in fats, carbs, caffeinated foods and beverages, spicy foods, and dairy. These foods cause stimulation within the body while they digest, often keeping their victims awake. It is recommended to try to limit food intake beyond 8 pm and to keep the snacking light if you’re going to be a late-night eater or a midnight snacker.
Carbohydrate-rich foods like grains and pasta keep the body awake because they are heavy foods that take a while to digest, and carbs are consumed typically for energy. When you have a bowl of pasta at 10 pm you are giving your body a nice dose of energy-enriched, slowly digestible food that gives your system the energy it typically needs throughout the day. This makes your body that much harder to wind down, because while your belly is full and your eyes ares droopy and ready for sleepy time, your body is ready and pumped to run a marathon and your brain is receiving signals to get moving. Avoid these mixed-signal foods late at night to allow for restful sleep.
For some people, coffee and hot cocoa can actually help them rest, but this it more due to the heat in the beverage soothing the body into rest mode than the actual beverage itself. So when you have your late-night caffeine drink and that calm, restful sensation overtakes you, once you are in bed and your body temperature is no longer affected by the hot drink, your mind is going a mile a minute and you toss and turn in anxious energy caused by all the caffeine. Not only will you have a difficult time getting to sleep, but you’ll keep your bed mate awake by all the tossing and turning and random conversations you attempt to start because YOU can’t sleep. Keep caffeinated beverages at bay right before bedtime.
Spicy foods and dairy products keep you awake at night due to their digestive issues. Spicy foods increase acid reflux and indigestion which is further exacerbated by lying down (it allows the acids in the stomach into the esophagus more rapidly and easily) and the gas and gurgly stomach makes for restless sleep and sleep interruption. Dairy causes upset stomach as well as it digests, causing painful bloating, sour belly, and sometimes diarrhea when consumed late at night. Try to keep the spice and dairy out of your diet late at night or you may be hitting the medicine cabinet (or toilet) throughout the night.
Fatty foods (especially high protein fatty foods like hamburgers) consumed late at night sit like a ball of dough in the belly and make sleep uncomfortable once laying down. The protein gives added energy that is hard to expel via sleep and the fats in the food are harder to break down, so the gurgly digestion that is slow-going is likely to keep you awake.
The best way to avoid sacrificing sleep for food is to avoid eating after 8 pm. However, if you are a late-night eater, be sure to consume a full glass of water with your meal to aid in digestion and try to keep your meal as light as possible, and don’t eat a full meal. Keep your dining to snacking and don’t allow your belly to get so full you’ll be up all night with a bloated, angry belly. Also, if there are foods that normally give you heartburn or indigestion, avoid them completely after 8 pm if you can to allow for better sleep during the night.