3 foods to eat before bed (and 4 to avoid)

What you eat and drink before bed can affect your sleep — for better or worse.

Mature woman waking up in bed.

You darkened the room, turned off the TV and lowered the thermostat, just like you’ve been told. 

But now it’s 2 a.m. and you’re wide awake, wondering how many more sheep you can possibly count. Want to avoid this fate tomorrow night? You might want to rethink some of the late-day food choices you’ve been making.

When it comes to quality sleep, food and drink may have a bigger impact than most people think, says Michelle Drerup, Psy.D., a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. 

A healthy lady on a walk
Schedule a free in-home checkup with HouseCalls

No travel. No crowded waiting rooms. UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls comes to you for 1-on-1 personalized care. This is the attention you’ve been waiting for.

To learn more and confirm if you are eligible, call 1-800-934-0280, TTY 711, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. ET, 5 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. PT. or click here.

Knowing what to eat and what to avoid in the late afternoon and evening hours is important. For calmer nights and more energized mornings, take a look at these three smart food and beverage swaps.  

Dinner: Swap out Spice for Fish

Recipes that go all in with jalapeños, hot sauce and spices have become popular in recent years. Unfortunately, fiery foods can trigger acid reflux (also known as heartburn), which is basically a sleep wrecking ball. 

Even if you don’t get acid reflux, spicy foods can still prevent a solid night’s sleep. That’s because they elevate your body temperature during your first sleep cycle, throwing the whole night out of whack, according to research from the International Journal of Psychophysiology. 

A smarter idea? Enjoy the spicy dishes for lunch and put your favorite fish on the dinner menu instead.

Salmon, tuna and halibut are good sources of vitamin B6, which increases your levels of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep cycles. 

Beverage: Swap out Coffee for Herbal Tea

Maybe you’re careful to avoid caffeinated beverages in the evening, but what about that soda or coffee you had in the afternoon? 

“Caffeine can have a half-life in the body as long as five to seven hours,” says Drerup. 

It’s a good idea to stop having caffeine around noon. And remember, coffee and soda aren’t the only beverages that contain caffeine. Black tea, green tea, chocolate, kombucha and energy drinks all have the potential to disrupt your sleep.

Your best bet is a beverage that’s both nonalcoholic and caffeine-free. “Some people swear by decaffeinated tea, chamomile tea or warm milk,” says Stacey Simon, Ph.D., a sleep psychologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. 

You could also try kava (sometimes called kava kava). This herbal tea has calming properties that might bring on faster and better sleep, according to a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology. 

Kava may also help people who have sleep problems related to an anxiety disorder, according to clinical trial results reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders. 

Late-Night Snack: Swap out Ice Cream for Fruit and Nuts

Truth be told, sleep specialists (and nutritionists for that matter) would prefer you hang a “kitchen’s closed” sign after dinner. That’s because a restful night may depend less on what you eat than when — and how much. 

Eating within a few hours of bedtime will often make falling and staying asleep more difficult. But if hunger pangs are knocking, you do have some smart options. 

Bananas, kiwifruit and cantaloupe are healthy desserts that can also help you stay asleep, thanks to their high potassium content. This mineral is important for regulating body fluids; it also keeps your muscles relaxed and prevents muscle cramps — a common nighttime complaint cited by the National Sleep Foundation.

Rest Easy
For help getting a better night’s rest, take this online learning course from Renew on sleep. Learn more here.

If you need a little salt with your sweet, try a handful of trail mix that contains three more potassium sources: dried apricots, dried prunes and sunflower seeds. 

Pistachios, walnuts, flaxseeds and other nuts and seeds are also good nighttime snack choices. They boost your body’s levels of serotonin, the mood-relaxing hormone that can help you fall asleep, the Cleveland Clinic notes. And like fish, nuts contain vitamin B6, a nutrient your body needs to make serotonin as well as melatonin.

Steer clear of sugary snacks, such as candy and cookies. These can drain your serotonin levels. If you’re really craving something rich like ice cream, try pureeing frozen chunks of banana and other fruit for a sleep-friendly alternative. 

Think Twice About That Nightcap

If you believe a glass of wine or a cocktail before bed will help you sleep, you’re not alone…and you’re wrong. It’s a huge myth.

Alcohol may cause you to nod off more quickly, but the sleep you get will be of poor quality. The Sleep Foundation warns that alcohol changes your sleep patterns, and as a result you’ll get a lot less deep, restorative sleep —  even if you’re in bed for eight hours.