If falling asleep takes forever, even when you’re exhausted, it might be time to rethink your diet and see if you might be eating foods that keep you awake at night.
Nutrition plays a role in everything we do, including the quality of our sleep, the funny thing is you might be eating a healthy, balanced diet and still be feeding the body foods that trigger your metabolism and give you energy (at the wrong time)!
Just like some nutrients help regulate sleep, there are other foods that keep you up at night by disrupting hormonal cycles, requiring extra work for digestion or just by being loaded with sneaky caffeine.
One ingredient I specifically have people ask about is chocolate. Will it keep you awake? The truth is, while there is some caffeine in cocoa, there are other foods that may be impacting your REM cycle more. Additionally, when paired with other sleep-inducing superfoods, cocoa can actually help promote rest and relaxation.
Fear not. I put together a clear list of eleven foods that keep you awake, what to replace them with and the best time to eat them. Plus powerful superfoods that will improve the quality of your sleep and have you counting sheep in no time.
Healthy Foods that Keep You Awake at Night (that you weren’t suspecting)
Before we get into this list, let me point out two very real and not always healthy culprits that may affect your REM cycles more negatively than the foods that keep you awake in this list: coffee and alcohol.
- Coffee: has excellent antioxidant properties, is delicious and surely gives you a boost in the morning. If you have it past 2:00 PM, you’re creating a chain effect that takes you through highs and lows throughout the day, keeping you from getting quality rest at a decent time when night falls.
- Alcohol: who doesn’t love the occasional glass of wine or beer? In our heavily socialized world, it’s almost impossible to go through the majority of the month without at least a couple of these drinks. However, alcohol is not your friend when it comes to deep sleep - it makes you fall asleep faster, but wake up more and have a 'restless’ night.
If a good night sleep is your goal, keep caffeinated drinks or meals to the 5 AM to 10 AM window and keep alcoholic beverages for celebratory occasions only, switching that 'nightcap’ for a healthier alternative.
Without further ado, the top sneaky foods that keep you awake at night (note that your tasty chocolate treat didn't make the cut):
#1 Green Tea:
Green tea is often consumed for its body detox and weight loss properties. So much so that we tend to overlook the fact that it is packed with caffeine!
For reference, black coffee has 95-165 mg of caffeine per cup, while green tea has 25-29 mg. It is a lot less, comparatively, but it’s still enough of a stimulant to be one of those healthy foods that keep you awake longer!
What to do:
Avoid a night of tossing and turning capping your intake at 2:00 PM, according to Shaw Stevenson, author of the 21 ways to sleep smarter, that's the best time to stop consumption and allow your body to enjoy the health benefits without disrupting your sleep.
#2 Lean Red Meat
If you're trying the Paleo or Keto diets (or are just a carnivore in general), you might be having lean meats with dinner, and some - or most - may be red meats.
Lean red meat may be an excellent source of protein when you're weight training, trying to put on weight in a healthy way or just a tasty meal that you enjoy, but it's not your bedtime best friend.
Fatty foods take longer to digest in your body, and when your brain is busy spending energy in tandem with your stomach to digest and process food, it is not in the relaxed state it needs to be for sleep.
What to do:
Go for lean white meats instead, and keep the red meat for lunch. Have a small portion of grilled chicken, turkey, white fish, or choose for a plant-based protein source that won't disrupt your sleep like quinoa or tempeh.
Note: keep an eye on all fried or fatty foods that keep you awake apart from red meat (like ham and bacon).
Of the healthy foods that keep you awake, the one you least expected is cheese! I know this might seem mind-boggling, especially since you're often told to drink a glass of milk at night to sleep better.
However, many types of cheese and particularly aged cheese (cheddar, gruyère, manchego, Gouda and parmesan) contain tyramine, a stimulating amino acid that helps you feel more alert. It doesn't affect everyone, but it can be strong enough for those who are already prone to struggling with good sleep.
What to do:
Don't have a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner! Skip cheese for at least 90 minutes before your preferred bedtime.
#4 Spicy Foods
Sorry, momo lovers! Spicy foods can lead to acid reflux, uncomfortable bowel movements, and more energetic digestion, making this one of those healthy foods that keep you awake at night in the most unsuspected way.
It's not just momos, you should also abstain from Sriracha, Tabasco, red and green curries, and all typically spicy foods - looking at you habaneros!
What to do:
Bring on the heat for lunch baby! And even for/before breakfast. Maximize that metabolism boost and kickstart your day by coupling cayenne pepper and the benefits of an apple cider vinegar shot. When it comes to dinner, hold off on the spice at least for a month to see how it affects your sleep cycle.
This is not technically one of the foods that keep you awake at night, but it does have the power to do so, even if it is the healthiest thing to consume in the world!
Having one or more glasses of water right before you hit the sack, may make you get up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself. This results in restless sleep because at times your body will be trying to send the signal to your brain that you need to go to the restroom and you might even dream you have to ‘go.’
What to do?
Drink water during the day and cap it one and a half hour before bed, switch to a soothing tea at the end of the day.
#6 Broccoli, Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts
While broccoli is very healthy, it takes a long time to digest. Less than red meats, but more than other cruciferous vegetables, so indeed it's one of those foods that keep you awake inadvertently.
Likewise, cauliflower and brussel sprouts give your digestive tract a run for its money. They also tend to cause gas and bloating due to a sugar type they contain, called raffinose sugar. All of these foods keep you awake at night.
What to do:
Eat yo greens! But, at lunchtime. Unless you have an allergy, there's no reason to cut broccoli, brussel sprouts or cauliflower from your diet, just choose to eat them for breakfast, lunch or a mid-afternoon snack instead.
Some greens that contain less raffinose sugar than broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts:
- Bok Choy
#7 Tomatoes and Tomato Sauce
It's likely that one or more of your go-to dinner meals may include tomatoes. Unfortunately, this is one of those healthy foods that keep you awake because of the tyramine amino acid content.
Tyramine triggers norepinephrine, which is a brain-boosting hormone that mobilizes the body for action. As you can imagine, not the best state before bed.
What to do?
Try to skip tomatoes for dinner. For my pasta-loving fiends, this may mean opting out of Italian for dinner.
#8 Raw Onions
Raw onions may cause acid reflux on people who have a sensitive stomach. They tend to produce gas and go unnoticed because they're in so many things that are truly healthy!
For example, avocados have the good fatty acids that may help you sleep better at night, but if you have guacamole with raw onions, you're sending your body some mixed signals. One food aids sleep, the other is one of the foods that keep you awake and alert.
What to do?
Try to eat onions cooked instead or avoid them for a while around dinner time. Of the foods that keep you awake, it is one of the least noticeable ones because it's usually just one ingredient in a meal. Be on the lookout for what's in your plate - particularly if you eat out!
Oats are great for breakfast or as a pre-workout meal; they're full of fiber and carbs that act as energizing fuel!
Eating oats at night may make you feel extra full and heavy, slow down your digestion (keeping your should-be-restful brain occupied) and wake you up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.
Remember that foods that keep you awake in general need more digestion and are great for breakfast.
If you've been researching a healthy diet, you probably did suspect beans; they're delicious but harder to digest, may make you gassy or bloated and have a tendency to result in heartburn for some people.
What to do?
Avoid bean chili and other heavy bean dishes for dinner, and if you do choose to have them go for a softer bean: Chickpeas or edamame, cooked slowly and served in portions no bigger than the palm of your hand. Beans are well known foods that keep you awake, but are by every measure healthy!
I know what you're thinking, how is celery one if the foods that keep you awake? It's so light and subtle!
Well, celery, pineapples, cucumbers, and watermelon have high water content and may act as natural diuretics, that much like water keep your body in restless - interrupted - slumber.
What to do?
Enjoy celery, celery juice and other high water content foods up to 90 minutes before you go to sleep. This should give you ample time to process the liquid and release it before your Morpheus appointment.
I know you're tired of the list of foods that keep you awake! Let's get into the good stuff:
Foods that help you sleep, a cheat sheet:
- Milk: contains tryptophan and aids melatonin production.
- Coconut milk: has magnesium which aids sleep.
- Cinnamon: helps regulate blood sugar and soothes digestion, which allows your brain to log off.
- Raw organic honey: also contains tryptophan.
- Egg whites: makes you feel satisfied, is easier to digest than other proteins, and they have tryptophan too!
- Avocados: healthy fat that helps increase serotonin levels and have magnesium. Power packed for a good night sleep. Don't overdo your portions!
- Nuts: actually contain melatonin! So you naturally help boost your sleep hormone. A handful should be enough.
- Chamomile, ginger and peppermint tea: have calming properties for the digestive tract making it easier to sleep and rest.
- Lemon balm: relaxes the nerves and aids digestion, it's a long-used herb in natural sleep medicine.
- Turmeric: may improve digestion, lowers blood sugar levels, and aids body detoxification, which results in more restful sleep.
- Reishi Mushrooms: reduces fatigue, boosts the immune system, and helps control blood sugar. Perfect for proper rest and a healthier body.
- Turkey Tail Mushroom: aids digestion, sleep, and the immune system with PKP and PSK beta-glucans that help regenerate white blood cells.
- Valerian Root: a powerful relaxing extract that is often used to calm the nerves. A few drops before bed will get you a deeper slumber.
If that list of healthy foods that keep you awake vs. the ones that help you nod off had your head spinning, I recommend the easy route: Have a powerful detox drink that puts you to sleep and tastes like a treat!
I'm talking about our Gold, Chocolate, healthy night time drink with nine sleep inducing superfoods that also reinforce your immune system, aid digestion and taste good. Crowned with cocoa, full of flavor and antioxidants, with none of the unnecessary fats of modern chocolate (and non-active amounts of caffeine!).
- Reishi Mushrooms
- Turkey Tail mushrooms
- Lemon balm
- Black pepper piperine
- Coconut milk, and
- Acacia Fiber Probiotic (for smooth digesting and better nutrient absorption)
Slash your sick days in half and get the sleep you deserve eating and drinking foods that support good rest. Try our superfood tea and wake up feeling truly golden.
I can't wait to hear what you say after you try it! In the meantime, I hope this list helps you narrow down the foods that keep you awake at night and finally sleep better.