Your Midnight Snack Might Be Ruining Your Sleep Schedule If It's One Of These 7 Foods

by Julia Guerra

It’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night — where are you and what are you doing? If you're in the kitchen, standing in front of an open refrigerator contemplating life and what to snack on before bed, same. I’m a grazer myself, and for some reason, right before bed, the snack attacks are so much worse than during the day. Sometimes I have enough self-control to pull myself away from the junk food drawer, but the times I do give into my cravings, I’m usually indulging in foods that make it hard to sleep, like spoonfuls of mint ice cream or pieces of chocolate. So I guess it’s true what they say: You are what you eat — or, at least, your sleep cycle is.

What you graze on before bed could potentially sabotage your entire night’s rest, and if you think about it, there are a ton of foods that can help you sleep better, and even foods that affect your dreams, so it totally makes sense that what you eat could have the opposite effect on your circadian rhythm (aka your biological clock controlling when you snooze and when you wake). In fact, experts actually warn against eating too close to bedtime at all, because food is fuel that gives you energy, and when it’s time to wind down and clock in some much-needed shut-eye, the last thing you want to do is spike your blood sugar levels and kickstart your digestive system.

Still, sometimes you’re just flat-out hungry and need to nibble on a little something to curb a ravenous midnight craving. That’s totally fine — you should always listen to your body’s hunger cues — but when it comes to sleep quality, what you eat matters just as much as when you eat, so what’s off-limits? Here are a few food groups to avoid at night.

Resist The Urge To Curb A Caffeine Fix

Coffee, soda, energy drinks, even some teas — whatever your preferable fix is, it's best to avoid sipping on hot or cold beverages that host a fair amount of caffeine in them right before bed, and it's pretty self-explanatory why. Think about it: You drink caffeine to wake you up in the morning, right? Well, the effects caffeine has on your body won't change just because you're drinking the stuff at dusk.

Instead, experts from Sleep Cycle tell Elite Daily you're better off switching to herbal teas, like chamomile, that are naturally caffeine-free. If you're looking for something a little more satiating, sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo, Chris Brantner, tells Elite Daily a warm glass of milk (like this moon milk recipe, for example), should do the trick, too.

Processed Carbs Are Also No Good

Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Me, at 1 a.m., when the sugar cravings were all too real. Hey, it happens to the best of us, right? Still, no matter how much your body is craving a bite of that double chocolate chip brownie, or a bowl of Lucky Charms, Brantner says it's best to resist temptation.

"A common bedtime mistake people make is eating snacks that are primarily processed carbs, like cereal or crackers," he tells Elite Daily. "The problem is that these foods can cause an insulin spike that may make it difficult to go to sleep." In other words, when you dig into these kinds of simple carbs, which are usually loaded with sugar, your blood sugar spikes, then crashes, triggering a mass production of the stress hormone cortisol, causing the sleep hormone melatonin to dip, which will ultimately lead to you waking up in the middle of the night feeling nothing but restless.

Instead of indulging in carbs, Brantner suggests nibbling on a piece of cheese or drinking a glass of warm milk, as dairy encourages melatonin production, and the more melatonin flowing through your body, the greater the chances are of you clocking in a good night's rest.

An Alcoholic Nightcap Might Keep You Up

If you're one to get boozy before bedtime, that fancy little nightcap of yours might be keeping you from scoring high-quality sleep. This goes back to the sugar issue: The more sugar your bedtime beverage has in it, the higher your blood sugar levels will spike, which will likely lead to a nasty crash that does nothing good for you or your body.

Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, tells Elite Daily, if you drink alcohol before bed, it naturally spikes then reduces blood sugar levels in the body, leading to "symptoms of hunger, thirst, shakiness, and could increase body temperature, making you feel hot."

So, sure, red wine at 1 a.m. sounds nice, but it's probably best to stick to water or warm milk once the sun is down.

Dark Chocolate Is Healthy, But It Wont Help You Snooze

I am a choco-holic, and if I'm craving sweets before bed, it's usually of the cocoa variety. But even though dark chocolate is better for you than milk or white bars, don't forget chocolate has caffeine in it. Ergo, just like it's best to avoid coffee and soda before bed, you're probably better off avoiding chocolate, too.

According to the AARP, if you're sensitive to caffeine, but still plan to have some chocolate in the evening, your best bet is to indulge anywhere from four to six hours before bedtime. Otherwise, you risk staring at the ceiling instead of snoozing for the next six to eight hours.

Too Much Hydration Means Trips To The Bathroom

OK, so caffeine's out, but maybe you're not into tea or warm milk. How, then, are you supposed to quench your nighttime thirst before getting comfy under the covers under these circumstances? Interestingly enough, gulping down a huge glass of H2O isn't really a great option either.

This isn't to say you should stop drinking water at night altogether; you just have to know your limits. According to Derocha, drinking too much water is bound to fill up your bladder, which basically means you're definitely going to have to pee the second you get cozy. So maybe instead of an entire glass, keep a water bottle by your bedside for occasional sipping. You might want to think about drinking apple cider vinegar before bed, too, because it can aid in digestion and actually help you sleep soundly throughout the night.

Avoid Anything Fried

If you want to treat yourself to some McDonald's chicken nuggets and fries for dinner, be my guest (and save some for me!), but you definitely don't want to be ordering chicken selects an hour before turning in for the night.

"These high-fat foods take longer to digest, and often cause bloating and indigestion that interfere with a sound night's rest," The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, told Eat This, Not That. Basically, a juicy burger and greasy crinkle fries are not your friend when your body's trying to unwind.

If you're super hungry, though, and you need something that falls between snack and meal, the experts at Sleep Score tell Elite Daily that foods that naturally produce melatonin, like turkey, chicken, nuts, whole grains, and seafood, are all solid options.

Spice Is Nice, But Not Before Bed

Stick to spicy foods around lunchtime, and try to avoid anything that could potentially mess with your digestive system close to bedtime. Trust me, I put hot sauce on everything, and Mexican food has become my latest indulgence of choice, but even though it tastes ah-mazing, spicy foods are huge sleep-pattern disrupters you want to avoid.

According to Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, a nutrition and diabetes expert, spicy foods actually have the ability to increase your body's core temperature, meaning you'll literally start to feel as hot, hot, hot as the food you're eating. In other words, Palinski-Wade told Eat This, Not That, because your internal thermostat naturally goes down when your body is preparing to go to sleep, raising it will only make you feel more awake. Try to hold off on picking at leftovers from dinner until tomorrow — they'll still be there for you in the morning.