Healthy sleep is trending and, as odd as it may sound, finding ways to sleep more efficiently is one of the latest crazes in the world of health and fitness. There are unusual beverages that can help you fall asleep and there are even a bunch of snacks you can eat before bed in order to help you build muscle. And, while everyone knows that caffeine before bed doesn’t equate to a great night’s rest, it’s possible that you are not aware of the many foods that aren’t great to have before bed.
“Typically, snacking at night is not caused by hunger but, rather, boredom,” says Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.
“Additionally, the types of food that are snacked on are usually high-calorie, indulgent food items like ice cream, cake, and chips. Combine these two factors and it is very likely that the snacker is overconsuming total daily calories, thus resulting in weight gain.”
But it isn’t just your waistline you need to worry about when eating before bed.
“I advise against snacking near bed[time] for reasons beyond the obvious (like weight gain),” says Alyssa Cellini, nutritionist and co-founder of My Custom Cleanse, “because of the effects it has on sleep and future diabetes risk. Sleep quality is highly affected by your circadian rhythm, so offsetting your insulin/cortisol in the night may cause you to toss and turn — or even hit snooze on your alarm in the morning. Diabetes is caused by high blood sugar swings and especially high insulin levels in the blood. So, pasta for lunch or two cookies near bed may have very different calories, but both elevate your insulin to the same point in your blood — overwhelming your cells and getting you one step closer to diabetes.”
If eating before bed can be so detrimental to one’s weight and health, what is the cut-off point? When should we stop consuming the foods in the accompanying slideshow?
“A great rule of thumb is two hours [before bed],” advises Ana Goldseker, director of nutrition for Nava Health and Vitality Centers. “The body should have ample time to properly digest its last meal before going horizontal. You want the body to be resting at night, not digesting. Better yet, review your last meal and figure out why it wasn’t satisfying. If you can take nighttime snacking out of the equation, even better!”
In addition to our 21 Sleep Hacks to Rest Your Way to a Better Body and Better Health, we urge you to avoid the following caffeine-containing, sugary, high-carb snacks before bed.
1. Boxed Cereal
Even some of the healthier options from our list of 9 Healthiest Breakfast Cereals to Enjoy and 6 Unhealthy Options to Avoid at All Costs are on the bedtime-snacking naughty list. Why? Even the healthy boxed cereals contain carbs, and, while they may not be as unhealthy as these 10 Breakfast Cereals That Have as Much Sugar as Candy, any carbohydrate should be approached with caution before bed time. Carbs, especially sugars, can inspire a blood sugar spike while your body is winding down at night, often resulting in undesirable weight gain.
Red meat — a carnivore’s best friend and the bane of every vegan’s existence. While the nation is torn between loving and hating red meat (decide for yourself after reading 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Eat Red Meat — and 8 Reasons Why You Should), one piece of advice we should all take seriously is that eating a burger before bed isn’t a recipe for peaceful sleep. In fact, burgers tend to have a high fat content and, when compared to the other macronutrients, fat is denser calorically (we’re talking nine calories per gram of fat versus four calories per gram of protein and/or carbohydrates). Fat can trigger heartburn, so if you want to avoid a restless night, tossing and turning with stomach and chest pain, say no to burgers before bed.
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate can be incredibly beneficial for one’s health; this isn’t breaking news. What you may not have known, however, is that cocoa naturally contains caffeine (about 12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce of chocolate). You (probably) aren’t downing a hot cup of coffee before bed, and we suggest avoiding dark chocolate as well. As wonderful as a slice of chocolate cake before bed may sound, you may want to save your amazing chocolate cake recipe for earlier in the day.
4. Ice Cream
Remember how sugary cereals were a nighttime no-no? Well, as tempting as a cup or cone from one of the world’s 30 best ice cream parlors may sound on your late evening walk home from the boardwalk or park, you better make sure you have ample time to digest its high sugar content before sleeping; your sleep can be disturbed as your body attempts to process large amounts of sugar consumed directly before bed. Also, many popular ice cream brands contain dark chocolate. Pop quiz: Are you supposed to eat dark chocolate before bed? Answer: No!
5. Jalapeño Peppers (and Other Spicy Foods)
Drowning your food in hot sauce isn’t unhealthy, but you better make sure you’re saving the Cholula for breakfast and lunch. Hot sauce, spicy cuisine like Indian dishes, and fiery peppers like jalapeño (and especially these 11 Spiciest Chile Peppers on Earth) amp up your metabolism, often resulting in a higher body temperature that can, in turn, lead to a restless night. Additionally, gastrointestinal distress (actually, we’re adults here — we can call 2 a.m. fits of gas 2 a.m. fits of gas) caused by spicy foods can keep even the most sincere Scoville enthusiast up all night.