Eating the right foods before bed can promote better sleep, while eating the wrong foods can interfere with sleep quality. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing pre-bedtime snacks, including a food’s effect on metabolism, hormone secretion, and digestive health. Here is a look at some of the best and worst foods to eat before bed.
Best Foods to Eat Before Bed
The best pre-bedtime snacks contain complex carbohydrates, tryptophan, magnesium, and other nutrients that promote relaxation and sleep. Some top foods to eat before bed include:
- Cherries – Contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
- Bananas – Packed with potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants.
- Almonds – Rich in magnesium, which is a mineral connected to improving sleep quality.
- Chamomile tea – Chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in the brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia.
- Greek yogurt – High in calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin.
- Oatmeal – Whole grain oats help boost serotonin and contain melatonin.
- Cottage cheese – Contains casein, a slow-digesting protein that promotes relaxation.
- Walnuts – Full of sleep-promoting melatonin and serotonin.
- Passionflower tea – Passionflower increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects.
- Tart cherry juice – Similar to cherries, tart cherry juice also contains melatonin.
In addition to specific foods and beverages, complex carbohydrates in general are great before bed. Foods like whole grain toast, crackers, and cereal with milk can help induce sleep. The natural sugar in carb-rich foods leads to a rise in insulin, which triggers tryptophan uptake into the brain. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin and melatonin, two brain chemicals that promote calmness and sleep.
Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed
On the flip side, some foods can negatively impact sleep quality when consumed close to bedtime. Foods to avoid before bed include:
- Coffee and tea – Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause sleep disruptions.
- Chocolate – Dark chocolate contains caffeine. Milk chocolate has sugar, which can disrupt sleep.
- Sugary snacks – Spikes blood sugar levels, giving a burst of energy when the goal is to wind down.
- Fatty foods – Difficult to digest and may cause uncomfortable acid reflux symptoms.
- Spicy foods – Can cause indigestion, heartburn, and stomach pain that make it hard to fall asleep.
- Alcohol – Causes disrupted and poor quality sleep patterns.
- Citrus fruits – Citric acid can cause digestive discomfort and heartburn.
In addition to the foods above, avoiding large meals close to bedtime is recommended. Eating a heavy meal leads to activity in the digestive system that can interfere with sleep. Small, light snacks are best.
Best Snack Options Before Bed
When it comes to the optimal pre-bedtime snacks, lighter options that contain sleep-promoting compounds and nutrients are best. Here are some of the top snacks to eat before bed:
- Slice of whole grain toast with almond butter
- Small bowl of oatmeal
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Cherries or grapes
- Handful of pistachios or walnuts
- Protein shake or milk
- Banana with nut butter
- Crackers and hummus
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Chamomile or passionflower tea
- Slice of avocado on toast
Foods That Keep You Awake
In contrast to the foods that can help induce sleep, there are many foods that can sabotage your slumber. Foods that may keep you awake if consumed before bed include:
- Coffee and caffeinated beverages
- Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
- Soda and energy drinks
- Spicy foods like chili or buffalo wings
- Garlic, onion, spicy peppers
- Fried foods and fatty meats that are hard to digest
- Sugary foods like candy, cookies, cake
- Citrus fruits because they are acidic
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower that can cause gas
- Tomatoes, tomato sauce and salsa which are acidic
- Alcohol, which interrupts sleep patterns
- Excessive water before bed that leads to nighttime waking for the bathroom
Avoid eating these foods in the 1-2 hours before your bedtime for optimal sleeping conditions.
Portion Sizes for Pre-Bedtime Snacks
In addition to choosing the right foods, pay attention to portion sizes. Large portions too close to bed can overload your digestive system and lead to sleep disruptions. Here are some appropriate serving size guidelines for pre-bed snacks:
- Fruit: 1 small piece or 1 cup berries
- Grain products: 1 slice bread or 1/2 cup cereal
- Protein: 1/4 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 1/4 cup cottage cheese
- Yogurt: 1 cup
- Milk: 1 cup
- Cheese: 1 to 1.5 ounces
- Vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked veggies or 1 cup raw
Stick to one or two items from the list above in appropriate portions. Avoid large buffet-style snacks too close to bedtime.
Nutrients and Compounds to Help You Sleep
Certain vitamins, minerals, and compounds in foods can help promote better sleep. Some of the main sleep-supporting nutrients include:
- Tryptophan – An amino acid used by the brain to make serotonin and melatonin
- Magnesium – A mineral that reduces inflammation and relaxes muscles
- Calcium – Helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin
- Potassium – Has muscle relaxing properties
- Melatonin – The sleep regulating hormone naturally produced by the body
- Complex carbs – Stimulates insulin production leading to tryptophan uptake
- Vitamin B6 – Needed to make serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan
Focus on consuming foods rich in these compounds and nutrients in the hours leading up to bed for optimal sleep quality.
Foods to Avoid Within 3 Hours of Bedtime
While you generally want to avoid heavy meals too close to bedtime, there are some specific foods that should be avoided altogether in the 3 hours before bed. These include:
- Coffee and caffeinated teas
- Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
- Soda, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages
- Spicy meals containing hot chilis or other fiery spices and peppers
- High-fat fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, mozzarella sticks
- High-sugar foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, and candy
- Alcoholic beverages
Consuming these foods and drinks before bed can lead to poor sleep in multiple ways. The caffeine and sugar provide energy when you want to be winding down. The spices and alcohol can trigger indigestion. And the acidic foods and beverages may cause heartburn.
Balancing Blood Sugar Before Bed
Unstable blood sugar levels during the night can negatively impact sleep quality and lead to waking up in the middle of the night. Consuming foods that balance blood sugar right before bed may help.
Choose complex carbohydrates like oats and whole grains that get digested slowly. Pair carbs with protein, fiber, or healthy fat to help control the release of sugars into the bloodstream. Foods that provide balanced sources of carbohydrates and other nutrients include:
- Oatmeal with nuts and cinnamon
- Whole wheat toast with nut butter
- Whole grain cereal with milk
- Quinoa salad
- Brown rice with vegetables
- Yogurt with fruit
- Apple slices with nut butter
- Vegetables dipped in hummus
In contrast, avoid simple sugars from sweets, sodas, syrups, and other processed snacks before bedtime as these can spike blood sugar and disrupt sleep.
Staying Hydrated Before Bed
Proper hydration is important for overall health and sleep quality. However, drinking too many fluids right before bed can lead to frequent waking for bathroom trips throughout the night. Here are some tips for staying hydrated before bed:
- Consume most of your fluid intake earlier in the day
- Avoid drinking excess amounts of water within 2 hours of bed
- Restrict fluids to small sips if drinking within 1 hour of bed
- Drink a glass of water if waking up thirsty during the night
- Choose hydrating foods like fruits, soups, yogurt if eating a bedtime snack
- Drink electrolyte beverages like coconut water and milk to stay hydrated
Getting your hydration from foods instead of large volumes of water close to bedtime can help you avoid disrupting your sleep to run to the bathroom.
Sample Pre-Bedtime Snack Schedule
Here is a sample schedule for healthy snacks in the 3 hours leading up to bedtime:
|Time Before Bed
|1 cup Greek yogurt with berries
|1 piece of toast with almond butter
|1 cup chamomile tea
The meal 3 hours before bed provides a balanced snack high in carbs and protein. Two hours before bed, a light carb and some healthy fat digest more quickly. Then 1 hour before lights out, a hydrating and relaxing tea.
General Tips for Pre-Bedtime Eating
Here are some additional recommendations for optimizing your nutrition before bed:
- Eat dinner at least 2-3 hours before laying down to allow for digestion
- Avoid greasy, fatty, spicy, or heavy foods for dinner
- Choose complex carbs for dinner to boost serotonin
- Pair carbs with protein or health fats to balance blood sugar
- Limit portion sizes at dinner to prevent indigestion
- Stay hydrated by drinking fluids regularly during the full day
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks before bed
- Opt for light, simple snacks in the 1-2 hours before bed
Paying attention to what and how much you eat in the evening can go a long way towards improving sleep quality.
Foods for Morning Wake Up Calls
While we’ve covered the best foods for getting you to sleep at night, certain foods can also help promote alertness to get your mornings off to a good start. Here are some healthy foods that can help provide morning wake up calls:
- Eggs – High in protein, which provides sustained energy
- Oatmeal – Complex carbs give you an energy boost to start the day
- Greek yogurt – Has protein, carbs, and is hydrating
- Berries – Antioxidants like blueberries improve alertness
- Nuts and nut butters – For protein, fiber, and healthy fats
- Chia seeds – These superseeds are loaded with nutrients
- Coffee – Caffeine wakes you up if you drink it moderately
- Green tea – Has less caffeine than coffee but still energizing
Avoid skipping breakfast and eat a combination of complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fat, and fruits or veggies in the morning. Stay hydrated with water or unsweetened beverages as well.
Choosing the right foods and beverages around bedtime can have a big impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep. Focus on snacks that contain sleep-inducing compounds and nutrients like melatonin, tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium. Avoid heavy or hard to digest foods as well as caffeine, alcohol, and sugary treats before bed. With the right pre-bedtime nutrition, you can optimize your quality of sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.