DON’T EAT: CHOCOLATE. If you’re eating chocolate cake or cookies, you’re probably swallowing loads of sugar. While that’s bad enough when it comes to your sleep, chocolate can also be a source of “hidden caffeine,” Murray explains.
Even though chocolate doesn’t contain much of the stuff, even a little caffeine can disturb or halt the sleep-inducing chemical processes going on in your brain and body before bedtime, he says.
Erin Morse, R.D., chief clinical dietitian at UCLA Health says many types of tea—and even decaf coffee—may also contain enough caffeine to keep you up if sipped before bed.
DO EAT: BANANA. Bananas are mostly made up of fast-digesting carbs. And fast digestion is definitely your goal when you’re snacking before bed, Morse says. “Bananas are also a good source of magnesium, which helps calm stress hormones and so can promote sleep,” Morse says.
DON’T EAT: FATTY FOODS. Dietary fats take a long time to digest, Murray says. While that can be good news if you’re trying to stay full between meals, it’s exactly what you DON’T want before bed. Milk, yogurt, avocado, nuts, ice cream, and butter are all bad news, he says. Ditto any kind of cooking or olive oil.
Maybe worst of all: cheese. “The guy who gets home late and eats a load of pizza before bed—that’s not going to help him sleep well that night,” he says.
DO EAT: WHOLE GRAINS. Carbs eaten an hour or two before bed can help trigger the release of serotonin, melatonin, and other brain neurotransmitters that promote sleep, says Maxine Smith, a registered dietician at Cleveland Clinic.
She mentions 100-percent whole-grain crackers or bread and stovetop popcorn as healthy pre-bed carb choices. Again, you don’t want to go nuts. The more you eat, the more likely you are to toss and turn, she says.
DON’T EAT: ACIDIC FOODS. Roughly 10 percent of younger men may suffer from acid reflux—but many of them don’t know it, Murray says.
“Common symptoms are a burning sensation in the back of your throat or in your chest,” he explains.
With reflux, the normal seal that keeps the contents of your stomach from bubbling up into your esophagus and throat doesn’t do its job properly. And, as you might expect, lying down makes the problem worse, he says.
Spicy or fried foods, as well as tomato-based sauces (again, think pizza), are all very acidic, Smith adds. Take them off your pre-bed menu.
DO EAT: EGGS. If your stomach’s growling, protein is a great way to satisfy it. Eggs are a good source of protein, and also a food your stomach should be able to process fairly quickly, Murray says. He says a scrambled egg may make its way through your gut more quickly than a hard boiled one.
DON’T DRINK: ALCOHOL. Alcohol disturbs your normal sleep rhythms. You know this. But it’s worth repeating if you’re fond of a drink or three before bed. “Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deep, sound, restorative sleep later in the night,” Smith says.
She recommends stopping at least a few hours before you sack out. “If you’re going to drink alcohol, try to have it with dinner early in the evening,” Murray says. That way, it’s long gone by the time you hit the hay.
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