Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and…midnight snack? Which foods to avoid before bed

Mar 12, 2016

You’ve finally made it to your bed after a long day of work where your TV welcomes you with your favorite show. You’ve eaten your three meals of the day, but as your favorite character is being rushed to the hospital you notice a sound that doesn’t quite belong: the growling of your stomach.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with running to the kitchen during a commercial break to grab a quick snack, but at a late hour what you grab matters. The ingredients in many foods can be detrimental to your sleep. This week on “Take Care,” hosts Linda Lowen and Lorraine Rapp talk to registered dietician and nutritionist Kerri-Ann Jennings about her article, “8 Foods to Avoid Before Bedtime.” Jennings writes for “Yoga Journal,” “Men’s Health,” the Huffington Post, and Cooking Channel TV.  

It’s recommended to give yourself at least a couple of hours between your last meal and sleep, according to Jennings, as laying down isn’t the best position to digest food in. But if you’re feeling hungry and need a snack to help you sleep, here are some tips from Jennings on what and what not to eat.

What Not to Eat:

Pizza

Many studies have shown that pizza can affect your dreams and give you nightmares, says Jennings. The fat from the cheese and dough mixed with the acid from the tomato sauce also makes pizza one of the worst things to eat before bed.

“It’s really not a snack, it’s more of a meal,” Jennings said. “If you’re eating a second dinner, that can add a lot of extra calories that you probably don’t need.”

Hamburgers

A hamburger is also a midnight snack that’s classified as “more of a meal.”

“It’s a lot on your digestive tract,” Jennings said.

Eating a burger right before bed can be disruptive to your sleep, giving you a stomach ache or waking you up to go to the bathroom. Jennings also mentioned a recent study that linked consuming too much saturated fat, which can be found in burgers, to lighter sleep and more wakefulness.

Coffee

“Obviously,” I’m sure is what you’re thinking. But many people tend to drink coffee or caffeine in general too close to bedtime. There should be at least six hours between your last caffeinated drink and the time you go to sleep, according to Jenning. This rule should be applied even to decaf coffee.

Although decaf coffee contains little caffeine, it still contains the acid that all coffee does.

“If you have trouble with GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, [coffee] could trigger some of those episodes,” Jennings said.

Alcohol

Although a glass of wine or a beer before bed can initially help you fall asleep, it doesn’t always make you stay asleep.

“It can make your sleep quality worse and it can make you more likely to wake up in the middle of the night, and then in the early morning to go to the bathroom because you’ve just had that extra liquid before going to sleep,” Jennings said.

Sugary Food and Drinks

This includes foods such as sugary cereals, and drinks such as non-caffeinated soda.  

As with coffee, sugar is stimulating and can make your sleep restless and unfulfilling.

Spicy Foods

Like coffee, spicy foods can also trigger episodes of GERD that can disrupt your sleep. The disease is caused by certain foods, like spicy peppers, weakening the muscle at the base of your esophagus, says Jennings. When the muscle is weakened, it can allow stomach acid to come back up and enter the esophagus—or reflux.

Along with GERD, spicy foods can also cause irritating heartburn that can keep you up at night, says Jennings.

Orange Juice

Although orange juice contains natural sugars that can be less stimulating than soda, it is high in acidity and can cause the same problems as coffee and spicy food when trying to sleep, according to Jennings.

What to Eat:

Fruit

Jennings recommends that instead of drinking fruit juice before bed, try having a whole piece of fruit, like an apple.“It’s going to give you some fiber, it’s going to stay in your system a little bit longer, and take longer to digest. But isn’t, on the other hand, as heavy and as hard to digest as a burger and pizza,” Jennings said.

Credit babe_kl / Flickr

Whole Grain Toast

Whole grain toast paired with some peanut butter or avocado has a good balance of carbohydrates and proteins and can be a good nighttime snack, says Jennings.

Non-Sugary Cereals

Although sugary cereals may not be a good bedtime snack, non-sugary cereals, like Cheerios and Bran Flakes, can be, says Jennings.

Cereals such as these contain a good balance of fiber and carbs and can fill your stomach just the right amount to have a good night’s sleep.

So next time you’re standing in front of the fridge during the commercial break of your favorite show before bed, try to reach for a healthier snack instead of that leftover pizza.