Almost all people experience insomnia at some point in their lives, mainly in their late adulthood. You, too, might be having difficulty switching off at night nowadays.
There can be various reasons why you stay awake so late despite all your efforts to sleep or why you wake up before cock-crow and are unable to get back to sleep.
These typical sleep problems (insomnia) may be related to your current financial situation, your family problem, your medical condition or related to your sleep environment. All of these and similar factors can be strong enough to wreak havoc on your sleep.
But, did you know that a certain food or drink you consume during the day can also cause insomnia? Even broccoli which offers a variety of health benefits can sabotage your sleep, according to science!
In this article, we will examine the foods and drinks that can hinder your sleep, leading you to insomnia!
Avoiding consuming these particular foods or drinks too close to bedtime can make a big difference in how easily you fall asleep at night. And, that in turn increases the quality of your life significantly. After all, we all know how a sleepless night can affect our mental and physical health on the following day/days.
But, first, let’s touch on some facts about insomnia that explain why you should focus on solving this problem as fast as possible. Thereafter, we will investigate the foods and drinks that can potentially sabotage your sleep.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person has difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or getting back to sleep after waking up (1).
According to the National Health Service; if insomnia lasts less than three months it is called short-term insomnia whereas more than three months indicates long-term/chronic insomnia (2).
Here are some facts about insomnia:
- Women are more susceptible to insomnia compared to men (3),(4).
- Insomnia is more common among elderly adults (3),(4).
- Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, affecting %30 to 40% of adults in the U.S.A in a given year (5),(6).
- This sleep disorder is associated with hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure, depression, and anxiety (7),(8).
Foods and Drinks That Contribute to Insomnia
Now that we have understood what is insomnia and looked at some facts about this common sleep disorder we can start talking about the foods and drinks that hinder your sleep, leading you to insomnia.
It is important to say that, a particular food or drink, most of the time, is not the sole cause of insomnia. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that particular food or drink contributes to insomnia significantly.
So, if you have difficulty falling asleep, then you may consider avoiding eating the below-given foods, at least until close to bedtime.
If you are a chocolate lover and consume it daily basis, you will get one bad and one good news in this section. The bad news must be obvious though. Yes, eating chocolate can hinder your sleep quality!
You might want to ask why and how. Essentially, two compounds available in chocolate make this dessert a wrong choice when it comes to having a good night’s sleep.
As for the somehow good news; if you don’t eat chocolate close to bedtime, then you can block chocolate’s sleep-disrupting impact.
The conclusion is that chocolate can interfere with your sleep depending on when you eat it. You should be safe unless you eat it close to bedtime.
2- Dried Fruits
In general, dried fruits such as dried apricots, raisins or dried figs are quite safe and healthy foods that offer various health benefits. However, if you consume too many of them during the day or consume them too late, then they can sabotage your sleep. Let’s explain how…
As the name implies, dried fruits are rather dry and nearly have no water in them. In addition to this property, most dried fruits contain a high amount of fibre.
Although fibre is essential for many bodily functions, it can cause digestive issues such as cramping, gas, diarrhoea and bloating, when consumed in large quantities (12). And, all of these digestive issues can prevent you from falling asleep. Note that these digestive problems can even wake you up!
So, to prevent dried fruits from causing insomnia, avoid eating them before bed. It bears repeating; that eating dried fruit in large quantities can hinder your sleep regardless of when you eat it.
Who could say no to a sliced hot-tasty pizza along with a cold drink in the late evening? A few people. But, if you want to get a good night’s sleep you should say no!! Here is why…
Actually, a combination of many factors makes eating pizza a bad choice in terms of sleep.
Firstly; we know that pizza – even a slice of it – is a heavy meal due to its high sodium and high-fat content. It is called heavy because the stomach increases its working capacity to digest foods that are salty and fatty, which means more work for the stomach, even while sleeping.
As a result of overtime work of the stomach, the risk of abnormal breathing during sleep increases and less time is spent in REM sleep. When they happened your sleep quality decreases significantly (13).
Other factors that make pizza potentially sleep-disrupting foods are the tomato and cheese content of pizza. If the pizza you eat contains tomato and cheese, it means your sleep is more likely to get interrupted. Here is why.
In light of this discussion, it is safe to say that, eating even a slice of tomato and cheese pizza can wreak havoc on your sleep. So, avoid eating pizza close to bedtime.
As mentioned above although broccoli is renowned for its health benefits, nevertheless it may not be ideal for you if you suffer from insomnia.
How does eating broccoli sabotage your sleep? What makes broccoli a potential sleep disturbance? Let’s provide answers to these questions.
In fact, the only reason that makes broccoli a potential sleep killer is related to its high insoluble fibre content which can increase the workload of your digestive organs (16). When digestive organs work hard at night it can cause insomnia, as we discussed above briefly.
It is also important to note that other veggies that come from the same family as broccoli too such as cauliflower, cabbage, and kale may cause the same effect.
For this specific reason, nutritionists recommend eating broccoli and broccoli-like vegetables before dinner (17).
This one might be slightly confusing. Because some recommend drinking water before bed while others recommend avoiding it. So which one is better when it comes to sleeping better?
The thing is that water is essential for the human body and there are consequences of not drinking enough water. However, if you drink plenty of them close to bedtime, it can cost you a good night’s sleep. Here is why.
Drinking plenty of water close to bedtime may not prevent you from falling asleep. However, it will most likely wake you up several times during the night, thus decreasing your sleep quality.
Not sure, whether we should talk about the relationship between caffeine and insomnia in a detailed way. After all, almost all of us know the bad reputation of caffeine for causing insomnia.
Nevertheless, let’s explain briefly how and why caffeine makes people alert and keep them awake at night.
According to the National Sleep Foundation; caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, the sleep-promoting chemical, in the brain. It is bad in terms of sleep because adenosine naturally builds up in the brain and promotes sleep. When caffeine impedes adenosine production in the brain, the body and brain stay alert (20).
Not only in coffee though, but caffeine is also found in many products one of which is chocolate as we touched on earlier. So, if you are to take a good night’s sleep, consider avoiding caffeine 6-7 hours before bed (23).
Although celery has a slight disadvantage in its taste, its health benefits are not in dispute thanks mainly to its high antioxidant content! The question is: may eat celery at the wrong time cause insomnia? It seems it can. Here is how…
There are two factors that make eating celery a bad choice before bed. These are the high fibre and water content of this vegetable.
1-) A decent amount of fibre in celery can increase the workload of digestive organs and thus may interrupt your sleep.
2-) The extremely high water content of celery can wake you up several times in the middle of the night to go to the toilet.
However, the solution is easy. Just avoid eating celery close to bedtime. In this way, you can consume celery that offers many health benefits without experiencing insomnia.
If you consume alcohol on a regular basis, many times you must have experienced the negative effects of alcohol on your sleep quality. Many would argue though claiming that alcohol makes falling asleep easier. It might be slightly correct because alcohol is a sedative (26).
However, the thing is that as the night continues alcohol in the blood reduces REM sleep periods. That, in turn, decreases both the quality and quantity of sleep, as the National Sleep Foundation explains (26).
If you are asking about the relationship between acid reflux and insomnia; as a result of acid flowing back to the food pipe and to the mouth certain symptoms such as coughing, choking sensation and heartburn may occur. And, these symptoms can wake you up easily (29).
What’s more, alcohol can also disrupt your sleep quality by increasing the severity of snoring (30).
The conclusion is alcohol consumption – but more importantly heavy and long-term alcohol consumption – can take a toll on your sleep. Try to minimise alcohol intake or avoid drinking after dinner to take a deep sleep.
9- Spicy Foods
May spicy foods be one of the factors that keep you awake at night? Well, if you eat them late at night or eat them in large quantities during the day, then yes spicy foods can significantly hinder your sleep. Here is how spicy foods can sabotage your sleep…
The first reason that spicy foods can cause insomnia is related to their capsaicin property. What capsaicin does is increase the core body temperature (31).
While it is a harmless thing to happen during the day, the rise in body temperature at night can disrupt your sleep cycle. After all, your core temperature naturally decreases in the late evening to prepare your body and brain for sleep (32),(33).
When taking all into account, it is safe to say that spicy food can easily sabotage your sleep and keep you awake. So, eat them in moderation before dinner to sleep better.
10- Green Tea
According to the Food & Drug Administration, consumption of green type tea has been increasing steadily and is expected to continue growing in the coming years (35).
Given its high antioxidant properties, such a rise in consumption as well as in the production of green tea is rather normal. But, the thing is that depending on when you drink it, green tea can keep you awake at night.
According to Healthline, drinking green tea two hours before bed can make falling asleep harder (36).
The caffeine, theobromine and theophylline properties of green tea can explain why consuming green tea close to bedtime causes insomnia.
As we discussed above there is no need to explain how and why caffeine disrupts sleep. As for theobromine and theophylline; these compounds have the effect of increasing heart rate (11),(37). This, if consumed late at night, can lead to insomnia.
If you are to take a good night’s sleep, it is better to stop consuming green tea 6 to 7 hours before sleep.
Tomatoes are another food types that can keep you awake for long hours at night. So, the question is “how do tomatoes hinder your sleep cycle, leading you to insomnia?”.
The second reason, of course, is related to tomatoes’ high acid content, which is strong enough to trigger heartburn in susceptible individuals.
Citric and malic acid that exists in tomatoes can trigger heartburn thus impacting your sleep quality (40).
Compared to a slice of pizza or a bar of chocolate, tomatoes should be less tempting in terms of taste. So, you can easily stop eating tomato and tomato products in the late evening thus minimising the risk of insomnia.
12- Ice Cream
You might be one of those who can’t give up eating ice cream as a night snack. You might also be one of those who do suffer from frequent insomnia. So, can there be a positive correlation between these two phenomena? According to medical experts and studies; yes, there can be.
So, in what way does eating ice cream negatively affect the quality of sleep? Here is the answer…
Another factor that makes ice cream a bad choice before sleep is the high sugar content. High sugar that exists in ice cream potentially causes a spike in blood sugar, leading to a sleepless night (43).
So, if you are a night ice cream consumer, you should bear in mind that ice cream eaten late can take a toll on your sleep.
13- Salty Foods
When it comes to causing insomnia, salty foods can be as guilty as sugary foods. Here is why…
According to an article published by Cleveland Clinic: eating sodium-rich food at dinner may lead to insomnia due to increased blood pressure and fluid retention (44).
Both of these conditions namely increased blood pressure and fluid retention can lead to restless sleep and frequent awakenings (44).
So, endeavour not to add too much salt to dishes at dinner. Or, avoid eating salty foods in the late evening.
The Final Verdict
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, there can be various reasons behind your insomnia such as stress or a certain medical condition.
We recommend that if you suffer from chronic insomnia, the only person from whom you should seek help should be none other than your health care provider.
What we have tried to achieve in this article was to remind you of the fact that certain food and drink can also be the culprit that causes or at least contributes to your insomnia.
Chocolate, dried fruits, pizza, broccoli, water, caffeine, celery, alcohol, spicy food, green tea, tomato, ice cream and salty foods are on the blacklist when it comes to insomnia.
So, if you experience insomnia every now on then, eliminating the foods and drinks we have mentioned above or avoiding their intake close to bedtime can help you overcome your sleep problems.
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.