Have you ever gone to bed with the intention of sleeping soundly, only to find yourself awake and staring at the ceiling? If so, you're not alone. According to an article in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, in the U.S. alone, 10-30% of adults report chronic sleep disruptions1.
It's time for that to change. In this blog post, we will discuss five surprising types of foods that can keep you awake all night long.
- Chocolate - One of the most common after-dinner delights is chocolate, which is also known to contain caffeine. Whether it's chocolate cake, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or even just one piece of Dove chocolate, caffeine is prepared to dance on your tongue and tickle your brain all night. As a rule of thumb, the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. For example, dark chocolate with 60-70% cocoa contains around 86 mg of caffeine per 100 grams2. The average cup of coffee has around 95 mg of caffeine, for comparison. Other caffeine-containing foods include decaffeinated coffee (surprise!), headache medications, and Vitamin Water. If you’re going to enjoy chocolate or other caffiene-containing nutrition, try to induldge in the earlier part of the day so you can set yourself up for sleepy success at night.
- Alcohol - Yes, alcohol can make you drowsy and even unconscious if you drink too much, but research has found that alcohol does not promote good or long-lasting sleep and has even been linked to worsening symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea3. There are four stages of sleep; the first three stages are non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the final stage is rapid eye moment (REM). Alcohol will disrupt the Stage 4 REM cycle of our sleep, ultimately throwing off the other three phases4. Dehydration will also result in that nasty hangover the next morning. The next time you have a big meeting, event, or interview and you feel your nerves beginning to act up, consider how much more of a superstar you will be the next day if you drink a glass of water (maybe even fruit-infused?) instead of that tempting glass of wine. Better sleep at night will boost your chances of greater mental clarity and increased energy the next day.
- Peppermint - Ahh peppermint, the refreshing after-dinner breath cleanser. While the sense of cleanliness overwhelms your mouth as soon as you pop that peppermint in, did you know that it can cause troubles with sleeping? That's because peppermint is a known trigger for acid reflux, or heartburn5. Many people who have reflux don't ever feel a burning sensation, but they will wake up at night coughing or sometimes even choking. This is often due to refluxed material coming up and spilling into your airway at night! Peppermint will relax your upper esophageal sphincter (aka your food tube), allowing your latest meal to return to your mouth...and not in an enjoyable way. Stay asleep at night by preventing your esophagus from waking you up in an unpleasant way.
- Fruit Loops - Many people enjoy a bowl of cereal as a nighttime snack, but beware of the cereals that might keep you up longer! Any cereal high in sugar will cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, which in turn effects your sleep. You might be familiar with the term “sugar crash,” which might make you think that sugar could eventually lead to a wonderful nap. While it might make you fall asleep faster, research has also shown us that is causes poor sleep quality with increased wakefulness at night6. Cereal might also make you feel bloated, further robbing you of any comfort you desire in your bed.
- Cheese - Cheese holds a special place in many people’s heart. From cheese festivals to cheese holidays, what is life without this wonderful variety of comforting flavors, textures, and sometimes stinky presence? While cheese can put many of us in a happy place during the day, it’s best to avoid this dairy delight before bed. Cheese, particularly strong or aged cheese, contains high levels of tyramine, which is an amindo acid that makes us feel alert and can increase blood pressure7. Tyramine can cause the adrenal gland to release the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, which is the last hormone we want coursing through our body when trying to sleep.
Although chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, cereal, and cheese may disrupt a good night’s sleep and do no good for insomnia, it doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate these creature comforts from your diet! Simply choose to eat or drinks these items in the first half of the day or well before you decide to go to sleep. Better sleep is the foundation of success, but it can be tough to achieve sleepless nights. One easy step is to change your diet habits, particularly with these five surprising foods that can keep you awake at night!
- Bhaskar, S., Hemavathy, D., & Prasad, S. (2016). Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 5(4), 780–784.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Chocolate, Dark, 60-69% Cacao Solids. FoodData Central.
- Gavidia, M. (2020, June 12). Alcohol Consumption Linked With Worsening Severity of Snoring, Sleep Apnea. American Journal of Managed Care.
- Pacheco, D. (2020, Sept 4). Alcohol and Sleep. Sleep Foundation.
- Robb-Nicholson, C. (2009, July 1). By The Way, Doctor: What can you tell me about peppermint oil? Harvard Health Publishing.
- Katagiri, R., Asakura, K., Kobayashi, S., Suga, H., & Sasaki, S. (2014). Low intake of vegetables, high intake of confectionary, and unhealthy eating habits are associated with poor sleep quality among middle-aged female Japanese workers. Journal of occupational health, 56(5), 359–368.
- Hall-Flavin, D.K. (2018, Dec. 8). MAOIs and Diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine? Mayo Clinic.