Eating before bed has long divided public opinion. For many people, eating before bedtime is part of their routine, and helps them to relax into sleep. Others, however, find that eating even a couple of hours before their bedtime has an adverse effect on their sleep. But does eating before bed have a positive or negative effect on us?
The umbrella statement that ‘eating before bed is bad’ is not necessarily true, and both camps can be right depending on the foods they eat. Some foods are very beneficial when eaten just before sleep. Other foods and drinks, however, can definitely cause some problems. For weight management, if you’re in daily calorie surplus, it doesn't matter what time you eat as you will gain weight. Equally, for weight loss, if your evening snack still permits a daily calorie deficit, you will still lose weight.
Here’s our quick guide to the best foods to ditch or devour when you’re getting ready to sleep.
Best foods to eat before sleep
Although this food is often associated with the start of the day, oats can make a great bedtime snack as they’re a source of melatonin. Melatonin has been reported to improve sleep efficiency and consuming sources of melatonin-rich foods may help to improve sleep.1
Oats are packed with nutrients, including protein, carbs and fibre. They’re also excellent sources of manganese, zinc and iron.
Serving suggestion: double up your overnight oats recipe and keep half aside for bedtime. Serve it warm for an extra soothing effect.
These little nuts make a great snack throughout the day. They’re often praised for being a filling source of healthy fats and protein. They’re also a great food to have before bed.
Almonds provide the body with tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is needed for the production of serotonin and melatonin.2 Both of which help with the sleep/wake cycle and can promote healthy sleep patterns.2
Serving suggestion: Keep a bag of almonds handy on your bedside table for a quick snack before bed. Alternatively, sprinkle them over some porridge or yoghurt, or enjoy a nice glass of almond milk.
These are a fruit that are usually associated with supporting boosts of energy and tough workouts, but bananas can also fuel your rest. Bananas are a source of melatonin and serotonin, which make you feel sleepy.3 They are also high in magnesium, which in high doses, may help relax your muscles. This can make bananas a great food for before bed as they may help to relax both your mind and your body.
Serving suggestion: bananas require little effort as they’re a tasty snack on their own. However, you could mash them on toast with sprinkled almonds and a drizzle of honey on top.
Speaking of honey...this natural sweet treat is a great accompaniment to a before bed snack. Honey provides the body with melatonin which encourages sleep. It also discourages orexin, which can keep the body alert even when you want to nod off.
Honey is also a powerful antioxidant so it can help ward off harm within the body as you’re resting. Opt for Manuka honey for the most impressive benefits.
Serving suggestion: just one teaspoon of the sweet stuff can help you get a better snooze. Drizzle it on some yoghurt, or use it to bind oats and almonds into a sticky flapjack mix.
Foods that can harm sleep
As well as being able to encourage a good night’s rest with our food intake, eating before bed can also cause problems like a poor night’s sleep.
This may seem like an obvious one, but many people don’t consider their evening cup of tea or pre-workout shake when wondering about their poor sleep. Go decaf and you may be surprised at your improved ability to nod off. Caffeine is a stimulant that can have a half-life between 5 and 10 hours.4 This basically means that half the amount of caffeine ingested will still be in your system for up to 5 to 10 hours later. This can vary a lot between individuals so, if in doubt, quit the caffeine later in the day.
Having a nightcap, or simply having alcohol in your system still, can lead to restless sleep. While some people report that it helps them fall asleep, studies suggest the quality of the sleep will be poor.5 This means you will not fully recuperate in the night and will wake feeling tired. That explains a lot of hangovers...
Learn more about the effects alcohol can have on us here...
Eating a treat before just before bed may seem appealing, but I can wreak havoc on your sleep. Foods that are fatty are more likely to cause you heartburn. Not only that, they are difficult to digest, and this extra effort by the body may keep you awake.
Despite being a popular after-dinner serving, cheese is poor for sleep. Cheese is a source of tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine - a powerful brain stimulant.6 As you can imagine, this does not help when trying to shut off to sleep. This could also prove the old wives' tale that eating cheese before sleep gives you strange dreams.
Foods with a kick should be avoided when you need a good night’s sleep. Chillies contain capsaicin, which stops the body efficiently regulating internal temperatures. This can lead to poor rest, as your body struggles to maintain a comfortable temperature.
So, will you be including a pre-bed snack into next week’s meal prep? It’s worth a try. A good night’s sleep will improve your day in so many ways. Good quality sleep is associated with maintaining a healthy weight, positive well-being and improved health. Plus, you’re way more likely to hit your workout goals when you feel rested and recuperated rather than tired out.
Take home message
For weight loss and weight gain, the most important factor for weight loss is your daily calorie intake. That said, a good night's sleep is really important for maintaining energy levels, appetite control and mood - all of which may impact long-term weight management.7 Avoiding foods that may disrupt sleeping and choosing evening snacks that may help improve sleep can lead to the associated health benefits than good quality sleep can provide.
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