If You Can't Fall Asleep, This One Food Could Be to Blame, Experts Say

Eating this food close to bedtime could mean fewer hours of sleep with more disturbances.

When you can't stop tossing and turning at night, you find yourself wondering what could be causing such a fitful rest. Once you've ruled out the usual suspects like caffeine too late in the day or your daily worries, you might not land on an explanation. As it turns out, it could be your late-night snack: Experts say that there's one common food that may be causing you to have sleepless nights. Read on to find out which food you should avoid close to bedtime, and for more late-night concerns, If You Take This Common Medication to Sleep, Stop Now, New Study Says.

Salty foods can affect your sleep.

man in blue shirt seasoning a steak or ribs or brisket
Shutterstock/Jaroslav Francisko

You might want to think twice about choosing potato chips as your late-night snack.  A 2006 study from the European Society of Endocrinology found that salty foods can delay how quickly people fall asleep, cause people to wake up more frequently throughout the night, and create sleep disturbances for two to three hours. When the participants in the study were finally able to fall asleep, the salty foods decreased deep sleep, resulting in "superficial at best" rest. Additionally, the salty foods caused more dreams and even some nightmares. Participants of the study reported feeling drowsy, fatigued, and unsatisfied with their sleep.

"Eating a meal that's high in sodium at dinnertime can contribute to sleep disturbances, in part due to an increase in blood pressure and fluid retention,"  Sandra Darling, DO, MPH, told the Cleveland Clinic. "The result may be restless sleep, frequent awakenings, and not feeling rested in the morning." And for more causes of insomnia to be aware of, If You Can't Sleep, This OTC Medication Could Be Why, Experts Say.

Too much salt could also make you get up to go to the bathroom more frequently.

Man walking into bathroom
iStock

If you find yourself taking multiple overnight trips to the bathroom, salt could be to blame. Not only can salty foods disrupt your sleep due to digestion and blood pressure, but they can also cause you to retain more liquid, which might make your bladder wake you up more frequently. A 2017 study out of Nagasaki University found that when participants with high salt intake reduced their consumption from 11 grams per day to eight grams per day, they saw a reduction in nighttime bathroom trips. The amount of time the participants got up to use the bathroom fell from 2.3 to 1.4 times per night. According to a statement, researchers found that the decrease in nighttime bathroom visits contributed to an improvement in quality of life.

"Nighttime urination is a real problem for many people, especially as they get older. This work holds out the possibility that a simple dietary modification might significantly improve the quality of life for many people," study leader Tomohiro Matsuo, PhD, said in the statement. And for more reasons you're tossing and turning, If You Can't Sleep, This Common Medication Could Be Why, Study Says.

Try not to eat salty foods within three hours of going to bed.

Potato chips
Shutterstock

Manchester, England-based general practitioner Chun Tang, MRCGP, DFFP, says that if you're going to eat salty foods, you should consume them as early in the evening as possible to avoid straining the digestive system overnight. If you're going to have a heavy meal or a snack that's rich in sodium, he suggests finishing it up at least three hours before bed.

And you may want to cut out all food after a certain hour—salty or not. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, Freshly's Director of Nutrition, says she doesn't recommend eating past 7 or 8 p.m. "This allows the blood sugar in the body to naturally fall alongside our stress hormone levels. Cortisol, our body's main stress hormone, works in opposition to melatonin, meaning that as cortisol decreases, melatonin (our sleeping hormone) increases," Scheller explains. And for more useful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

You should also avoid fried foods close to bedtime.

Fried bar food
Shutterstock

Salty fried foods are a nightmare combination for your sleep. "Foods that are high in fat, like fried and processed foods, travel through the digestive system slower than fresh foods, vegetables, and protein. As soon as you take that first bite, your digestive system kicks into action, and the body releases a chemical called histamine," Tang says. "Histamines stimulate the production of the acid that travels to the stomach to break down your food. Whereas antihistamines can make you sleepy, histamines may keep you awake. When you eat shortly before bed, this process is happening as you are trying to sleep. Your digestive system is still working away to break down these fatty foods, resulting in a disturbed, restless sleep." And for more health concerns to be aware of, If You See This on Your Feet, You May Have Diabetes, Doctors Say.

Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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