science · 29. Nov 2021
5 foods that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep
Avoid these foods to rest easy (well...easier)!
While we know the exact amount of sleep we each need each night can differ somewhere between 5-9 hours based on the needs of any given individual - there’s a general consensus that the vast majority of us are simply not getting enough sleep.
In fact, research shows that sleeplessness and insomnia are becoming increasingly common, with worldwide studies indicating that somewhere between 10% and 60% of the general population struggle on a regular basis to get a good night's sleep.
And although there is no cure-all remedy to induce rest, there are some things we could all probably be doing better to support our body’s natural ability to sleep.
As you embark on a journey with sofi, and your on-going feedback helps us generate your very own personalised playlist of plants, there’s no harm in finding supplementary ways to promote your overall well-being.
In light of today’s focus on sleep, here are 5 types of food you may want to avoid eating right before bed…
If you’ve ever returned from a night out or an evening down at the pub completely exhausted, only to spend hours laying wide awake in bed, know that you’re far from alone!
Alcohol consumption can affect sleep quality in a variety of ways. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that slows down all activity in the brain, typically resulting in sedative effects that can make you feel relaxed or sleepy (1).
At the beginning of the sleep cycle, alcohol consumption could very well help to induce deep sleep, especially for regular drinkers. As the sleep cycle continues, however, an imbalance between slow-wave sleep and REM sleep often occurs, as alcohol has been shown to suppress REM during the first two (90 minute) cycles of sleep (4).
What this means is that while alcohol may help put you to sleep to begin with, it’s not uncommon for people to experience frequent nighttime and early morning awakenings - and to miss out on the many regulatory benefits of REM sleep.
Research indicates that to avoid the likelihood of alcohol consumption negatively impacting your sleep, you should stop drinking at least four hour before you plan to go to bed (5).
Other ways to mitigate the risk of sleep disruptions, are to switch to another drink such as herbal tea, sparkling water, kombucha, or non-alcoholic spirit before calling it a night. For regular drinkers with an oral fixation of sipping a liquid, swapping a beer for a bubbly soft beverage can help.
2. tyramine-rich foods
Tyramine is an amino acid found in a variety of foods. The problem with tyramine is that it gets converted to the brain stimulant, norepinephrine, within the body, causing a cascade of effects that can inhibit and disrupt our natural ability to sleep (6).
Norepinephrine - or noradrenaline, as it’s sometimes also called - is the hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for our flight, fight, or freeze response during times of acute stress. Norepinephrine effectively signals our body to wake-up by keeping us on high alert with our blood pressure raised (7).
Understandably, these are not the signals we want to be encouraging when it comes time to sleep. This is why it’s important to avoid eating foods rich in tyramine before bed.
Well, tyramine is most significantly found in aged foods; dairy products such as parmesan, feta, brie, and blue cheese, fermented sauces like soy sauce, fish sauce, teriyaki and miso, as well as cured and processed meats like salami, pepperoni, bacon and corned beef.
In addition to skipping the beloved cheese and wine board in the evening, some other tyramine-containing foods to avoid include: nuts, milk chocolate, potatoes, marmite, and unpasteurised ale or beer.
As it turns out, coffee lovers may be causing harm to their sleep cycle in more than just one way.
Not only do studies show that regular drinkers of caffeine take more time to fall asleep, but there’s also evidence to support the tendency for them to wake up earlier, and enjoy less restful and restorative sleep overall (8).
Because caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, it prevents adenosine (the neurotransmitter associated with deep sleep, the feeling of drowsiness, and the slowing down of activity in the brain) from running its natural course of effects.
And while adenosine is there within the brain and body to slow things down, caffeine does the opposite, stimulating actions of cells to speed up, and lowering levels of other helpful molecules such as melatonin, serotonin, and GABA, in return (9, 10).
Although some research suggests that improving your tolerance of caffeine by consuming it regularly and over time can lower its disruptive effects, those who already suffer with issues relating to sleep, might want to give that self-experiment a miss (11).
Instead, limiting caffeine intake later in the day, and avoiding dietary sources of caffeine are both a great way to go. Food sources of this stimulant to avoid include dark chocolate, guarana beans, energy supplements, and fizzy drinks.
Alternatives to coffee can also be useful, and many people find replacing their daily cup of joe (or three) with decaf coffee or tea to be least disruptive to their routine. Other options like chicory root coffee, or mushroom tea provide a similarly earthy flavour profile to a stronger brew, and supply a myriad of nutritional benefits (12).
Capsaicin is a colorless phytonutrient found in a wide variety of hot peppers, and it is what causes the spice in chilli peppers. The main problem with Capsaicin is that spicy foods are known to cause indigestion and worsen symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, it is also speculated that chilli peppers may affect your sleep, by altering your body’s temperature (13, 14).
In fact, researchers have found a link between the frequency of wakefulness during the night and an elevated core body temperature. It is thought that because the body naturally undergoes a decrease in temperature during stages of deep sleep, insomnia may be more directly tied to thermoregulation (and namely: being too hot) than it was originally understood to be (15).
In Australia, a study was conducted to try and better understand the precise mechanisms behind why and how capsaicin may disrupt sleep. The results showed that tabasco sauce and mustard taken with the evening meal significantly disturbed sleep, specifically reducing the slow wave and stage 2 of sleep. This then caused the total time awake to increase, also increasing sleep onset latency (the time it took participants to fall asleep) (16).
If it is the flavor profile of chilli peppers that you are looking to replace, sweet,smoked, and mild paprika can produce a fairly similar taste, but contain no capsaicin as the seeds and membranes are removed. Hot paprika, however, is made from capsaicin-bearing peppers, so ultimately, it might be something you want to avoid.
If you are looking to replicate the ‘hot feeling’ of chilli peppers, you could try ginger, which leaves a “hot” sensation in your mouth, without giving you the spicy side effects of capsaicin. Try switching to a spiced non-caffeinated tea (such as a decaf chai tea) to achieve the same warming effect.
Nevertheless, if you can’t quite fight back the craving to eat a tasty dish that contains capsaicin, just try to avoid eating it right before bed!
5. tryptophan-blocking foods
Tryptophan is another amino acid with key implications for the quality of sleep and the regulation of our sleep-wake cycle. This is because tryptophan is one of the core building blocks of serotonin, which you may recognise for its important role in sleep from our article on the neural pathways targeted by valerian.
Serotonin (also commonly referred to as 5-HT) helps regulate day-to-day anxiety, trigger non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and reduce overall sleep latency.
In order for serotonin to be produced, however, tryptophan is first tasked with the job of crossing the blood-brain barrier - a difficult feat to accomplish due to the high levels of amino acid in direct competition with one another.
This is why many foods cited as being particularly high in tryptophan (often animal-based), actually result in the tryptophan being crowded out; they have too many competing amino acids trying to cross the blood-brain barrier (17).
Research studies show that getting tryptophan from plant-based sources - when compared to foods like turkey, chicken, or eggs - result in higher levels of both initial and maintained tryptophan in the brain. And subsequent findings have pin-pointed a direct link between a diet poor in carbohydrate (plant-based) sources of tryptophan and the impairment of sleep (18, 19).
Non-tryptophan blocking sources of tryptophan (ironic, I know right?) include fresh fruits and vegetables such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, soybeans, and sea vegetables or algae.
There’s a reason it’s in people and plants we trust!
- Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., Lim, J. T., & Kim, J. Y. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean journal of family medicine, 36(6), 294–299.
- Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013 Apr;37(4):539-49.
- Colrain, I. M., Nicholas, C. L., & Baker, F. C. (2014). Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handbook of clinical neurology, 125, 415–431
- Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., Lim, J. T., & Kim, J. Y. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean journal of family medicine, 36(6), 294–299
- Stein, M. D., & Friedmann, P. D. (2005). Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use. Substance abuse, 26(1), 1–13.
- Bauknecht, P., Jékely, G. Ancient coexistence of norepinephrine, tyramine, and octopamine signaling in bilaterians. BMC Biol 15, 6 (2017).
- O'Donnell, J., Zeppenfeld, D., McConnell, E., Pena, S., & Nedergaard, M. (2012). Norepinephrine: a neuromodulator that boosts the function of multiple cell types to optimize CNS performance. Neurochemical research, 37(11), 2496–2512
- Chaudhary NS, Grandner MA, Jackson NJ, Chakravorty S. Caffeine consumption, insomnia, and sleep duration: Results from a nationally representative sample. Nutrition. 2016 Nov-Dec;32(11-12):1193-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2016.04.005. Epub 2016 May 10.
- Nutrition Source, Harvard University. (2021). Caffeine. Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 2, Pharmacology of Caffeine
- Clark I, Landolt HP. Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2017 Feb;31:70-78
- Pillai TG, Uma Devi P. Mushroom beta glucan: potential candidate for post irradiation protection. Mutat Res. 2013 Mar 18;751(2):109-15
- Nisar, M., Mohammad, R. M., Arshad, A., Hashmi, I., Yousuf, S. M., & Baig, S. (2019). Influence of Dietary Intake on Sleeping Patterns of Medical Students. Cureus, 11(2), e4106
- Surdea-Blaga T, Negrutiu DE, Palage M, Dumitrascu DL. Food and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Curr Med Chem. 2019;26(19):3497-3511
- Naked at Night: A Study on Sleepwear Preferences. Mattress Advisor (2019).
- Edwards SJ, Montgomery IM, Colquhoun EQ, Jordan JE, Clark MG. Spicy meal disturbs sleep: an effect of thermoregulation? Int J Psychophysiol. 1992 Sep;13(2):97-100
- Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ, Regan MM, McDermott JM, Tsay RH, Breu JJ. Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:128-132.
- Binks H, E. Vincent G, Gupta C, Irwin C, Khalesi S. Effects of Diet on Sleep: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2020; 12(4):936.
- Bravo, R., Matito, S., Cubero, J. et al. Tryptophan-enriched cereal intake improves nocturnal sleep, melatonin, serotonin, and total antioxidant capacity levels and mood in elderly humans. AGE 35, 1277–1285 (2013).