Improving Sleep Quality: What To Avoid (2023)

Improving Sleep Quality: What To Avoid (1)

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Which Foods Hinder Your Ability To Sleep?

from the registered dietitians at feastgood.

You may have heard that certain nutrients can impact sleep. But does this mean that foods and drinks directly hinder one’s ability to sleep?

Having a background in nutrition and dietetics, I can tell you exactly which foods and nutrients can disrupt sleep, according to research.

(Video) How to Improve Your Sleep Quality

Foods that lead to poor sleep are often high in sugar and/or fat such as candy, smoothies and soda, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, cheeses and cured meats, and spicy foods. Caffeine, in either food or drinks, and alcohol can also disrupt sleep, depending on the amount consumed.

Knowing which foods and drinks negatively impact sleep is important as it will help you make more informed choices when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

key takeaways
  • The relationship between diet and sleep regulation is complex, because of the many nutrients and hormones involved in the sleep-wake cycle and feed-fast cycle.
  • There is no single food that hinders sleep. Rather, it’s the cumulative effect of your dietary habits, which may include the consumption of heavy meals close to bedtime (high in fat and sugar, and low in fiber and complex carbs).
  • Research suggests that sleep-promoting foods include kiwis, tart cherry juice, nuts, and salmon, as they include nutrients that interact with sleep metabolism.

The Science Behind Food And Sleep

Diet and sleep are closely linked. This is because ingredients in certain foods and drinks can influence hormones and neurotransmitters involved in sleep regulation.

Sleep is regulated by a complex interaction of hormones and neurotransmitters, including serotonin, melatonin, and cortisol. They all help to regulate the so-called sleep-wake cycle.

Serotonin regulates mood and is essential for making melatonin. Melatonin (sleep hormone) helps you relax and get to sleep, whereas cortisol (stress hormone) promotes wakefulness and alertness during the day, helping you get up and feel awake.

If serotonin is low, it can lead to low mood which, in turn, interferes with melatonin production. Consequently, if melatonin and cortisol are unbalanced, they can cause insomnia and sleeplessness.

In addition to melatonin, cortisol, and serotonin, other hormones can also interfere with sleep, such as insulin, leptin, and ghrelin.

Insulin helps to regulate blood sugar levels whereas leptin and ghrelin (hunger/satiety hormones) help to regulate appetite. If blood sugars are unstable and leptin and ghrelin are unbalanced, they can lead to poor sleep and sleeping disorders.

Ultimately, your diet habits influence your hormones and can disrupt sleeping patterns which, in turn, can have a knock-on effect on food choices and eating patterns.

For example, if you don’t get enough sleep you are more likely to desire more food and opt for high-calorie foods.

5 Types Of Food That Hinder Sleep

Foods High In Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that causes you to be more alert and awake.

It can influence sleep quality if taken more than you can tolerate, or if taken later in the day or close to bedtime (within 6 hours of bedtime).

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations, the safe amount of caffeine is 400 mg daily.

Here are some examples of foods and beverages that contain caffeine, taken from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Data Central:

  • Coffee: one 240 ml coffee contains around 80-100 mg of caffeine. So if you usually have 4 cups of brewed coffee in a day, this is your upper limit of caffeine.
  • Tea: a 240 ml cup of green or black tea contains 30-50 mg (herbal teas are caffeine free).
  • Chocolate: a 28 gram serving contains around 9-12 mg of caffeine, meaning that a 100 g chocolate tablet contains around 30-40 mg.
  • Coffee flavoured ice cream: this ranges from 30-70 mg per 240 ml. For example, Ben & Jerry’s Coffee ice cream contains 70 mg whereas Haagen-Daz contains 30 mg.
  • Energy drinks: caffeine can range from 40-250 mg in energy drinks. For example, a 250 ml can of red bull contains 80 mg of caffeine, and a 473 ml can of monster contains 160 mg.
  • Soft drinks: a 360ml bottle typically contains 30-40 mg of caffeine. This includes diet soft drinks as well as full sugar, for example diet pepsi and pepsi cola
  • Pre-workout supplements: one pre-workout serving contains between 200-420 mg of caffeine, so this means it is very easy to go over the upper limit if you have other caffeine-containing items in the day.

Foods Rich In Tyramine

Tyramine is an amino acid (protein) that promotes the production of stimulants (norepinephrine, adrenaline). It is made in the body but it is also present in a number of food products. High amounts in the body are linked to migraines and insomnia.

Tyramine is present mostly in aged and fermented (longer shelf life products with added preservatives and salt) foods and beverages. Consider that 6mg of tyramine in any 30g serving of food is considered high.

Here’s a list of high tyramine foods:

  • Matured cheeses: blue cheeses (Camembert, Stilton and Gorgonzola) and hard cheeses (Cheddar, Parmesan, and Emmentaler)
  • Cured meat/fish products: smoked hams, salamis, dry-type summer sausages, mortadella, jerky, and pickled or smoked fish
  • Alcoholic beverages: beers which are home-made or unpasteurized, European or Korean
  • Overripe/spoiled fruits and vegetables: overripe bananas and avocados, pickled vegetables (kimchi or sauerkraut)

(Video) Six Tips for a Better Night's Sleep

Sugary Foods

Sugary foods are commonly high in simple and refined carbs and make you hungry soon-after because they are not filling and low in fiber. As such, they cause blood glucose levels to spike and drop.

Low fiber and high saturated fat and sugar intake is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more arousalsMarie-Pierre St-Onge – Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine

This means that overconsuming sugary foods (added sugar included) is linked to disrupted sleep (consider that the upper daily limit for added sugar intake is 10% of your total calories).

Common foods high in sugar that can impact sleep include:

  • Sweetened beverages: full sugar soda, fruit juices, smoothies, red bull, monster.
  • Sweets/candy: gummies, jelly beans, pralines such as Mon Cheri and Pocket Espresso, sugar coated dried fruits or nuts, chocolate/nut spreads, jam, honey, white table sugar, maple syrup and agave syrup.
  • Some sport supplements: sports chews, simple sugar gels, dextrose powder, gatorade, and lucozade.
  • Bakery products: waffles, doughnuts, pastries, cookies.

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods are linked to poor sleep because they can cause heartburn and indigestion if eaten close to bedtime. This might be because lying down allows acids to creep up, which can become worse while sleeping.

Body temperature elevation after eating spicy food can also be another reason for poor sleep.

So, try to avoid (if you can) spicy foods late in the evening close to bedtime (1-2 hours is close).

Here are a few examples of spicy foods:

  • Chili peppers: ghost pepper, jalapeño, serrano, and Thai chili peppers
  • Spicy meals: curries, kimchi, tom yum soups, and ramen noodles
  • Sauces/condiments: tabasco, mustard, wasabi, sweet chili sauce, spicy olive oil, hot sauce, buffalo sauce

High-Fat Foods

High fat foods, especially high in trans fats and saturated fats, can interfere with sleep quality.

This is because fat is more complex to break down and digest than other nutrients as it takes 3-4 hours to digest. Lots of fat in a meal also means that your meal is calorie dense resulting in a heavy meal before bed.

Consider that fat intake should be roughly 20-35% of your total daily calories (depending on your goals and training), with no more than 10% of this from saturated fats.

Here’s a list of high-fat foods to limit especially before bed:

  • Fried foods: pastries, burgers, fries, pizza, and doughnuts.
  • Full-fat dairy products: yogurts, whole milk, cream, and cheese.
  • Cured and fatty meats: chicken skin, bacon, chorizo, salami, pancetta, and sausages.
  • Oils/spreads: butter, ghee, suet, lard, and coconut oil.

Alcohol's Effect On Sleep

Alcohol acts as a sedative and interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain. It is quickly absorbed in the bloodstream to reach the liver, however your liver can only process a little amount at a time.

This means that the excess alcohol will circulate throughout the body (depending on the person and quantity of alcohol consumed, alcohol can circulate in the body for various hours).

If alcohol is also taken with caffeine or energy drinks, it hides the sedative effect of alcohol, which commonly makes people drink more.

For these reasons, any amount of alcohol can cause disrupted sleep, even if it induces feelings of sleepiness at first.

My advice would be to limit alcohol consumption, especially close to bedtime. Try to stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before bedtime to avoid sleep disruptions.

Heavy Meals And Sleep Disturbance

Heavy meals consisting mostly of fatty and sugary foods is associated with interrupted sleep. This is because of the more complex digestion demands attributed to heavy meals.

The digestion of these meals can take several hours, and if you go to sleep on a full stomach there may be a higher risk of heartburn or indigestion.

To avoid this, aim to give your body time to digest. If you can, after a meal wait 3-4 hours before you go to sleep.

(Video) 5 Tips To Improve Your Sleep

Try having lighter meals rich in fiber (vegetables and wholegrains), protein (meat, eggs, fish, or pulses) and complex carbs (brown bread, brown pasta, quinoa) which will give you longer lasting energy before sleeping.

For example:

  • 90-110g cooked chicken filet, 3-4 egg sized boiled potatoes with skin on, steamed broccoli and cauliflower.
  • 140g grilled salmon filet with 90g cooked quinoa and asparagus.
  • 2 slices of brown bread, 2-3 scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes and mushrooms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Going To Bed Hungry Affect Sleep?

If you are going to bed hungry because you are in a weight loss phase and intentionally cutting, this may be normal. However, if your hunger is so intense that it keeps you awake, you could be cutting calories by too much and lacking certain nutrients, which in turn can affect your sleep quality.

When Should You Stop Eating Before Bed?

You should stop eating 3-4 hours before your bedtime, as this gives time for your body to digest your meal and absorb it as energy. This timeframe may help you limit indigestion from your meal, ensuring the best quality of sleep.

Is It Bad To Eat Right Before Bed?

If you eat a meal immediately before bedtime, you could experience difficulty falling asleep because it can take up to 3-4 hours to digest a meal fully (depending on the meal macros). This means that you could risk staying up at night due to indigestion, which can happen particularly with meals rich in sugar, fat and spices.

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Improving Sleep Quality: What To Avoid (7)


What should we do to improve sleep quality? ›

Tips for Better Sleep
  1. Be consistent. ...
  2. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  3. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  4. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  5. Get some exercise.

How do you treat poor sleep quality? ›

Basic tips:
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends.
  2. Stay active. ...
  3. Check your medications. ...
  4. Avoid or limit naps. ...
  5. Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol and don't use nicotine. ...
  6. Don't put up with pain. ...
  7. Avoid large meals and beverages before bed.
Oct 15, 2016

How do you get a good night sleep and wake up refreshed? ›

Exercise regularly.

Most studies show that regular exercise three-to-four times a week helps improve sleep. It's usually best to exercise in the morning or afternoon. If you exercise at night, try not to exercise within 2 hours of bedtime, as the adrenaline boost from your workout may disrupt your sleep.

What is the secret to sleep faster? ›

Tips for Better Sleep
  • Sticking to a consistent sleep and wake schedule.
  • Reducing caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake.
  • Avoiding electronic devices in the leadup to bedtime.
  • Ensuring that you have a quiet, dark, and comfortably cool sleep environment free of distractions.
Mar 31, 2023

What is probably the most common disrupter of sleep? ›

Sure, blue light exposure or working out before bed can make you feel more awake than you should be, but when it comes to the most common sleep disruptors, Dr. Michael Breus, Ph. D. —he's also known as The Sleep Doctor—says that it typically comes down to caffeine, alcohol, and anxiety.

What are two factors that can affect sleep? ›

Other factors that affect sleep include stress and many medical conditions, especially those that cause chronic pain or other discomfort. External factors, such as what we eat and drink, the medications we take, and the environment in which we sleep can also greatly affect the quantity and quality of our sleep.

What are the two main factors that regulate sleep? ›

Researchers explain that sleep regulation has two components: Build-up of homeostatic sleep drive. Circadian rhythms.

What are five things a person could do to improve their sleep quality? ›

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. ...
  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. ...
  • Create a restful environment. ...
  • Limit daytime naps. ...
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. ...
  • Manage worries. ...
  • Know when to contact your health care provider.

What are the most common causes of sleep problems? ›

  • Stress. Concerns about work, school, health, finances or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. ...
  • Travel or work schedule. ...
  • Poor sleep habits. ...
  • Eating too much late in the evening.
Oct 15, 2016

What are the bad side effects of melatonin? ›

Melatonin does not have many common side effects but there are things you can do to help cope with them:
  • Feeling sleepy or tired in the daytime. ...
  • Headache. ...
  • Stomach ache. ...
  • Feeling sick (nausea) ...
  • Feeling dizzy. ...
  • Feeling irritable or restless. ...
  • Dry mouth. ...
  • Dry or itchy skin.

What fruit is highest in melatonin? ›

1. Cherries. Cherries (especially sour cherries like the Montmorency variety) are one of the only (and highest) natural food sources of melatonin. Studies have shown a boost in circulating melatonin after consumption of cherries, though sweet cherries have half the melatonin content as sour cherries.

What food has the most melatonin? ›

Eggs and fish are higher melatonin-containing food groups in animal foods, whereas in plant foods, nuts are with the highest content of melatonin. Some kinds of mushrooms, cereals and germinated legumes or seeds are also good dietary sources of melatonin.

What vitamin helps you wake up? ›

What vitamin helps you wake up in the morning? Vitamins B12 and D are vital for boosting our body's energy levels. They work by alleviating fatigue which is usually the reason why we struggle to wake up in the morning.

Which form of magnesium is best for sleep? ›

Without question, magnesium glycinate is the best form of magnesium for sleep. Magnesium glycinate is a combination of magnesium and the non-essential sleep-inducing amino acid, glycine.

What is the most healthy sleep position? ›

Specifically, sleeping on the side or back is considered more beneficial than sleeping on the stomach. In either of these sleep positions, it's easier to keep your spine supported and balanced, which relieves pressure on the spinal tissues and enables your muscles to relax and recover.

What is the 4 7 8 sleep trick? ›

Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight. Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.

Why do I wake up at 3am and can't go back to sleep? ›

If you wake up at 3 a.m. or another time and can't fall right back asleep, it may be for several reasons. These include lighter sleep cycles, stress, or underlying health conditions. Your 3 a.m. awakenings may occur infrequently and be nothing serious, but regular nights like this could be a sign of insomnia.

Why am I so tired but can't sleep? ›

If you're tired but can't sleep, it may be a sign that your circadian rhythm is off. However, being tired all day and awake at night can also be caused by poor napping habits, anxiety, depression, caffeine consumption, blue light from devices, sleep disorders, and even diet.

What is the 15 minute rule for sleep? ›

The 15 minute rule

If, after 15 minutes, you find that you are not asleep, don't stay in bed. if you're still awake after another 15 minutes, get up again and repeat. This helps with associating your bed with sleep and has been found to be one of the nost effective strategies to address long-term sleep difficulties.

Why do I wake up at 2am and can't go back to sleep? ›

Reasons this might happen include drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day, a poor sleep environment, a sleep disorder, or another health condition. When you can't get back to sleep quickly, you won't get enough quality sleep to keep you refreshed and healthy.

What is the 15 minute rule for insomnia? ›

To promote your bed-sleep connection, follow the quarter-of-an-hour rule: if you notice that you aren't asleep within around 15 minutes of going to bed, try getting out of bed, go to another room go through your wind down routine until you are feeling sleepy-tired and ready to return to bed for sleep.

Should I drink water before bed? ›

Some water before bed helps your body stay hydrated at night. However, too much water before bed can interrupt your sleep cycle and lead to a chronic lack of sleep. That, in turn, can increase your risk of obesity and hinder weight loss. Low drinkers of water will want to up their intake during the day instead.

What can I buy to go to sleep faster? ›

Take melatonin

Melatonin is known as “the sleep hormone.” The body produces it to induce drowsiness and sleep in line with the body clock. People can also take it as a supplement to increase the chance of getting to sleep. Learn more about melatonin for sleep.

What is the best juice before bed? ›

Cherries are a great source of tryptophan and melatonin. Drinking 2 cups (480 ml) of cherry juice per day may increase your melatonin levels and improve your sleep overall.

What is the number 1 sleep disorder? ›

Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, involves problems getting to sleep or staying asleep. About one-third of adults report some insomnia symptoms, 10-15 percent report problems with functioning during the daytime and 6-10 percent have symptoms severe enough to meet criteria for insomnia disorder.

What are the top 5 sleep disruptors? ›

7 Sleep Disruptors and How to Avoid Them
  • #7 – Random Sleep Schedules. ...
  • #6 – Bright Artificial Lights. ...
  • #5 – Irregular Daytime Napping. ...
  • #4 – Hot Bedrooms. ...
  • #3 – Sharing Blankets. ...
  • #2 – Caffeine Intake. ...
  • #1 – Stress.
Aug 1, 2017

What two substances should people avoid to keep from disrupting sleep? ›

Alcohol and other Drugs

Antidepressants, smoking, alcohol, and other drugs can cause a loss of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

What are 3 common sleep problems? ›

Key Sleep Disorders
  • Insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by an inability to initiate or maintain sleep. ...
  • Narcolepsy. Excessive daytime sleepiness (including episodes of irresistible sleepiness) combined with sudden muscle weakness are the hallmark signs of narcolepsy. ...
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) ...
  • Sleep Apnea.

What are three barriers to sleep? ›

Barriers to sleep were stress, anxiety, and the use of electronic media before sleep.

What are 3 natural methods of regulating your sleep schedule? ›

Develop a sleep routine.
  • If possible, wake up at the same time each day.
  • Go to bed around the same time every day, but not more than 8 hours before you expect to start your day.
  • Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals at least 2 hours before going to sleep.
May 12, 2022

What is the 10 3 2 1 0 rule for sleep? ›

10 hours before bed: No more caffeine. 3 hours before bed: No more food or alcohol. 2 hours before bed: No more work. 1 hour before bed: No more screen time (shut off all phones, TVs and computers).

How can I get 7 hours of quality sleep? ›

Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends. Don't take naps after 3 p.m, and don't nap longer than 20 minutes. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Avoid nicotine completely.

What causes lack of deep sleep? ›

Some people with insomnia experience changes in their sleep cycles and, as a result, may have more stage 1 sleep and less deep sleep. Stress and aging can also reduce levels of deep sleep. Additionally, people with conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease experience less slow wave sleep.

What is the golden rule of sleep? ›

Remember that short, unbroken sleep is more beneficial than more time in bed not sleeping. Start dictating your wake time – Wake up at the same time every day even when you have had a poor night's sleep (and this applies to weekends too).

What is the magic number for sleep? ›

At Least 7 Hours of ZZZs Nightly

Based on current evidence, adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night for optimal health, and that getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep is associated with worse health outcomes.

What is the magic number of sleep hours? ›

As if you needed any further proof that getting a proper night's sleep is good for your brain and your future cognition, we now know that seven hours is the minimum number of hours a human needs to function normally both the next day and into the future.

Is 10pm to 4am enough sleep? ›

“There is no such thing as a “fixed or ideal time” to go to bed which will suit all individuals. It is generally advisable to fall asleep between 10 pm to midnight as for most people this is when the circadian rhythm is at a point that favours falling asleep.”

How much sleep do I need by age? ›

How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Age GroupRecommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
Newborn0–3 months14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)1 No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)2
Teen13–18 years8–10 hours per 24 hours2
Adult18–60 years7 or more hours per night3
61–64 years7–9 hours1
5 more rows
Sep 14, 2022

How much deep sleep does a 70 year old need? ›

For healthy adults, 13 to 23 percent of sleep should be deep sleep. For an average eight-hour night of sleep, that's roughly 60 to 110 minutes spent in deep sleep.

How can I stop waking up at night? ›

  1. Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. ...
  2. Relax your body. ...
  3. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep. ...
  4. Put clocks in your bedroom out of sight. ...
  5. Avoid caffeine after noon, and limit alcohol to 1 drink several hours before bedtime. ...
  6. Avoid smoking. ...
  7. Get regular exercise. ...
  8. Go to bed only when you're sleepy.

How much deep sleep should a 65 year old? ›

If you're under age 30, you may get two hours of deep sleep each night. If you're over age 65, on the other hand, you may only get a half hour of deep sleep each night, or none at all. There's no specific requirement for deep sleep, but younger people may need more because it promotes growth and development.


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