Therapy & lifestyle

Foods to avoid at night

We shared a list of the four types of foods that help you sleep. We do, however, suggest you finish eating at least two hours before bed, avoid heavy meals and steer clear of these seven foods at night:


This is not surprising; caffeine is a well known stimulant that keeps your body awake. What you may not know is that you should avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime,1 or that it can hide in many foods besides candy, soda and energy drinks, namely:

  • Some tea
  • Chocolate
  • Decaffeinated coffee (In fact, 5–10 cups of decaf contain as much caffeine as 1–2 cups of regular coffee)2

Protein and fat

Foods high in both these types of calories “are digested slowly and may cause stomach upset, cramping, bloating or heartburn if eaten too soon before lying down and in a large quantity,” according to registered dietitian Sarah Remmer. As you can imagine, any of these discomforting symptoms could make it hard to both fall and stay asleep. Be sure to avoid too heavy a meal before bedtime no matter what you’re eating, but especially if it includes high-fat or high-protein foods.

Of course, dairy products fit in this category, and last week we suggested eating dairy because its “calcium combines with the tryptophan you’ve eaten to create more melatonin.”2 Our recommendation is still: Eat dairy, just not too much that you still feel full from it when it’s time for bed.


Not only can spicy foods also cause sleep-disturbing heartburn, one study suggests that they can cause your body temperature to rise.3 And high body temperatures make it harder to fall asleep, which is why we also recommend setting your room temperature somewhere in the mid-60s and even taking a bath or shower before bed.

Some vegetables

Like fatty foods, Remmer says fiber also takes longer to digest. That means if you eat fiber-enriched foods or vegetables like broccoli, cabbage or onions too close to bedtime, your body could still be working to break them down long after you want to sleep and/or leave you feeling bloated in bed.

Other vegetables like celery, cucumbers and radishes have a high water content. The AARP warns that eating these natural diuretics too late could cause a nighttime bathroom trip to interrupt your sleep.


A nightcap may help you fall asleep. But alcohol can shorten your deep, high-quality REM sleep stage (especially at higher doses)4 and even cause you to wake in the middle of the night.


It’s not a food, per se, but if you smoke before bed, the nicotine you inhale acts as a stimulant that will keep you awake. There are many benefits of quitting cigarettes – your sleep is one more, and just as important as the rest.



  1. Drake C et al. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med 2013;9(11):1195–200.
  2. University of Florida. Decaffeinated coffee is not caffeine-free, experts say. ScienceDaily 2006. (accessed March 11, 2015).
  3. Barbosa R et al. Tryptophan hydroxylase is modulated by L-type calcium channels in the rat pineal gland. Life Sci 2008;27(82):529–35.
  4. Edwards SJ et al. Spicy meal disturbs sleep: An effect of thermoregulation? Int J Psychophysiol 1992;13(2):97–100.
  5. Ebrahim IO et al. Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2013;37(4):539–49.


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