5 Foods to Avoid Before Bedtime

Chocolate, wine, and more of your favorites could be stealing your sleep. 

Medically reviewed in January 2023

woman in bed, awake, insomnia, sleep
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If you thought your diet and nightly slumber were unrelated, you thought wrong. In fact, the food you eat before bedtime could be sabotaging your sleep.

Though late dinners are occasionally unavoidable, studies suggest evening meals and nighttime snacking, regardless of what you munch on, are associated with poorer sleep quality. Some foods, however, are worse than others. Knowing which foods to avoid before bed could mean the difference between a restful snooze and a night full of tossing and turning.

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Dark chocolate might be good for your heart, but, this creamy, bitter treat may not be conducive to a good night’s sleep.

The antioxidants found in dark chocolate, many of which come from cocoa beans, are responsible for heart health benefits like increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels and healthier blood vessels. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the greater the benefits—and the more caffeine it contains. Caffeine stimulates your brain, keeping you awake and alert. Two ounces of 70 to 85 percent cocoa dark chocolate holds 45.4 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as half a cup of coffee.

burger and fries, cheeseburger, hamburger
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Fatty Foods

There's a time and place for fatty foods in a healthy diet, but that time isn’t before jumping into bed.

Red or processed meats, fried treats, and greasy junk food like potato chips all contain high levels of fat. Fat can aggravate heartburn, a symptom of acid reflux in which stomach acid makes its way into your esophagus. Heartburn can make falling asleep difficult, and the pain can cause you to wake throughout the night. If you’re going to indulge, do it at least three hours before hitting the sack.

happy couple, wine
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As anyone who’s had a little too much wine can tell you, alcohol can make you drowsy. But this sleepy feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to a good rest. Alcohol can inhibit restorative sleep, aggravate existing breathing problems, and cause you to wake up multiple times throughout the night.

A study published in 2020 in Scientific Reports found that men who averaged more than 21 drinks per week (>3 per day) slept considerably worse than those who didn’t drink at all. Another 2015 review of 20 studies in Alcohol Clinical & Experimental Research suggested the more alcohol consumed before bed, the greater the negative impact on sleep quality. And while a sleepless night or two won’t send your body into shock, nightly interruptions could result in more fatigue and stress.

curry, naan, pita, vegetarian, bowl
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Spicy Foods

Fiery cuisine won’t cause nightmares, but it could disrupt your dozing. For some, spicy food aggravates acid reflux, which can cause heartburn and damage the esophagus. If your esophagus is already damaged by reflux, it can be irritated even further by eating spicy food.

To make matters worse, symptoms of acid reflux may worsen when lying down, and sleep troubles, like insomnia, are more common among those with acid reflux.

ice cream, vanilla, dessert, frozen yogurt
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Ice Cream

While delicious, ice cream is high in fat and sugar; 1 cup of chocolate ice cream, for example, contains 14 grams of fat and 34 grams of sugar. Both are associated with lighter and more interrupted sleep. 

Still hungry? Try low-calorie snacks instead, like an apple paired with a low-fat string cheese or whole grain crackers and natural peanut butter.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Sleep Foundation. The Best Foods To Help You Sleep. Updated September 19, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. Dark, Milk or White – Which Chocolate Is Best for Your Heart? May 20, 2021.
Harvard Health Publishing. In the journals: Cocoa reduces inflammation associated with heart disease. February 1, 2010.
Cleveland Clinic. Dark Chocolate Health Benefits. March 10, 2022.
Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Mar;75(3):716-27.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? December 12, 2018.
Sleep Foundation. GERD and Sleep. Updated October 7, 2022.
Jeff Olsen. Timing snacks to avoid heartburn. Mayo Clinic. November 23, 2017. 
Sleep Foundation. Alcohol and Sleep. Updated October 26, 2022.
Britton A, Fat LN, Neligan A. The association between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders among older people in the general population. Sci Rep. 2020 Mar 24;10(1):5275.
Chan JK, Trinder J, et al. The acute effects of alcohol on sleep electroencephalogram power spectra in late adolescence. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2015 Feb;39(2):291-9. 
NIH: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Sleep. July 1998.
Cleveland Clinic. GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux). Last reviewed December 6, 2019.
St-Onge MP, Roberts A, et al. Fiber and Saturated Fat Are Associated with Sleep Arousals and Slow Wave Sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. January 15, 2016.
Alahmary SA, Alduhaylib SA, et al. Relationship Between Added Sugar Intake and Sleep Quality Among University Students: A Cross-sectional Study. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2019 Aug 23;16(1):122-129. 
Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications. 2013. 4, Article number: 2259. 

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