Diet & Nutrition
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5 Foods to Avoid Before Bedtime

Chocolate, wine, french fries and more could be stealing your sleep. 

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By Taylor Lupo

If you thought your diet and nightly slumber were unrelated, you thought wrong. In fact, the food you eat before hitting the hay 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.      

Chocolate

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Dark chocolate can 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. One ounce of 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate holds 40 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as half a cup of coffee. It’s no wonder munching a morsel before bed might make sleep a lofty dream.       

Fatty Foods

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There's a time and place for fatty foods in a healthy diet, but that time is most certainly not 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.    

Alcohol

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As anyone who’s knocked back a few too many can tell you, alcohol makes you drowsy. But this sleepy feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to a restful slumber. Alcohol can inhibit restorative sleep, aggravate existing breathing problems and cause you to wake up several times throughout the night.

One review of 20 studies 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, interrupting your nightly slumber with a cocktail could result in more fatigue and stress.  

Spicy Foods

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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.

A spicy curry dish may also interfere with sleep in other ways. At least one small study suggests men had more trouble falling and staying asleep after consuming a meal with hot sauce and mustard. 

Ice Cream

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As you lay your head to rest, you might regret the heaping spoonfuls of ice cream you enjoyed during your girls’ night, or ate in hopes of mending a broken heart.

Ice cream is loaded with fat and sugar; one 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, one study suggests.

Another study links poor sleep to cravings for junk food, meaning the process could be cyclical—and even worse for your waistline.

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