Last updated on July 31st, 2016

There’s a lot of advice about which foods might help you to get to sleep; warm milk, tart cherry juice and tryptophan-rich foods are some of the perennial favourites, but what about the foods that you should avoid? Apart from obvious errors, like gulping down a double espresso or a can of Red Bull before bed, most people don’t really pay much attention to what they eat before falling asleep.

So if you’ve got a suspicion that your diet might be affecting the quality of your sleep, here are some suggestions for foods to avoid before bedtime.

Junk Food

No surprises here. High fat, high sugar processed food is a really bad idea before bed. Fatty foods over stimulate the production of acid in the stomach. This can lead to heartburn and indigestion. Sugary junk  foods, including soda, rapidly crank up your blood sugar levels. You might fall asleep easily (the “sugar crash”), but during the night when your blood sugar plummets, your body will sense this chemical imbalance, disturbing your sleep cycle, possibly waking you up.



Chocolate in it’s unrefined form is actually quite healthy for you. Raw cacao, the bean that chocolate is processed from contains loads of antioxidants and essential minerals and amino acids. A real superfood if ever there was one. However, chocolate also happens to contain natural stimulants ((What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate? NYU Langone Medical Center)) including caffeine, theobromine and phenylethylamine. In addition, processed chocolate contains lots of sugar, which as we know can cause a  ‘sugar high’.

Spicy Foods

Unless you have a cast iron stomach, avoiding hot and spicy foods before bedtime just seems like common sense.A study (( Spicy meal disturbs sleep: an effect of thermoregulation? Edwards SJ et al. Department of Biochemistry, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia. Int J Psychophysiol. 1992 Sep;13(2):97-100.)) showed that foods such tabasco sauce and mustard showed marked changes in male subjects, reducing the overall amount of stage 2 light sleep and stages 3 & 4 of deep sleep. Whilst indigestion is a likely cause for the sleep zapping effects, the subjects also exhibited elevated body temperatures, suggesting the hot spices were interfering with the body’s natural thermoregulation process.

Leafy Greens

Green vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts are high in fiber. Depending on how well your body digest carbohydrates, these vegetables can often be resonsible for producing excess gas in the stomach. Symptoms can include burping, passing wind, bloating and even abdominal pain. If greens affect you in any of these ways, it’s best to avoid them before bed time.

Preserved Meats

Bacon, ham, pepperoni and all preserved meats contain an amino acid called tyramine. Tyramine causes the adrenal gland to release the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which is part of our brain’s ‘flight or flight’ mechanism. This can make you feel alert and agitated, not the ideal state you want to be in at bedtime. Tyramine also occurs in aged cheeses, sauerkraut and some vegetables.


If you’re fond of a night-cap to send you off, you may be making things worse than better. Although alcohol has a sedative effect, it’s effects are short lasting it interrupts your natural sleep cycles. ((Alcohol and Sleep – Alcohol Alert No. 41-1998. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  No. 41 July 1998))  In the latter stages of your sleep, when REM (rapid eye movement) occurs more frequently, sleep is often interrupted causing you to stir easily in the night. This often causes drinkers to wake early from their slumber without feeling as if they have slept properly.

Jeff Mann

Jeff Mann is the founder and editor of Sleep Junkies. Get in touch at jeff [at]sleep junkies[dot]com

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