Plus, what you should eat for a longer, sounder snooze.
The short-term impacts of a poor night’s sleep are fairly obvious the next day: yawning, baggy eyes, sour mood.
The long-term consequences, however, go far beyond an unproductive day at the office. Consistently getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night can put a big hurt on your health.
“Sleep deprivation can have a serious effect on anxiety levels, as well as your ability to deal with stress,” says Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo. It also raises your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And it’s a chronic stressor, which results in brain fog, irritability, depression, and lower self-esteem.
Lack of sleep can also show on your waistline. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that sleep-deprived people are more likely to choose high-fat foods, and consume more calories overall, than those who sleep well.
It’s a vicious cycle. When you eat poorly, you’re more likely to sleep poorly. Fortunately, you can break the cycle by avoiding the following foods and beverages before bed.
Avoid: Crackers, Cereal, and White Bread
“A common bedtime mistake is eating snacks that are primarily processed carbs, like cereal or crackers,” Brantner says.
These foods can cause an insulin spike. When blood sugar subsequently crashes in the middle of the night, levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) may rise while production of melatonin (a sleep hormone) falls. This results in sleep disruption, Brantner explains.
The fix: Go for dairy, such as a warm glass of milk or piece of cheese. “The calcium in dairy promotes melatonin production, which promotes sleep,” Brantner says.
Avoid: Sweets Like Ice Cream, Cookies, Candy, or Cake
High-sugar foods cause insulin and blood sugar levels to spike, says Alicia Galvin Smith, R.D., a nutritionist with Carpathia Collaborative, and this leads to elevated cortisol levels.
“You may have trouble falling asleep or you’ll wake up during the night,” she adds.
The fix: Focus on low-sugar, healthy fats such as avocado, hard-boiled eggs, olives, hard cheese, nuts, or coconut shreds, Galvin Smith suggests. If you simply can’t quell your sweet tooth, go with natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and cane natural sugar.
Avoid: Spicy Restaurant Foods
Who doesn’t love Thai? Answer: You, when you’re tossing and turning with stomach pain at 3 a.m.
“Spicy foods can cause heartburn, and 80 percent of people who suffer from regular heartburn and acid reflux will experience it at night,” Brantner says.
The same goes for your go-to pizza place, as tomato-based Italian specialties are usually acidic and can mess with digestion and cause nighttime heartburn, Brantner says.
The fix: The best solution is the simplest—avoid eating these foods within a few hours of bedtime.
If you regularly experience nighttime heartburn, try sleeping on your left side, Brantner suggests. Studies have shown that lying on your left can ease heartburn, while lying on your right aggravates it.
For reflux, try sleeping on an incline. Lying flat on your back puts your stomach and throat on the same level. By propping yourself up, you drop your stomach and help keep the acid where it belongs, Brantner says.
Avoid: Steak and Burgers
Fatty and greasy foods can be tough on your digestive systems, causing heartburn or general discomfort, Brantner says.
What’s more, consuming high amounts of saturated fat before bed can reduce the amount of time you spend in deep, restorative sleep, according to a 2016 study published in American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This is another reason to avoid pizza.
The fix: Substitute your beef entrée with turkey or chicken instead. You’ll feel equally full, and lean animal proteins are often packed with tryptophan, a natural drowse-inducer.
A glass of wine or two may knock you out, but it’ll also shake you awake a few hours later.
Alcohol promotes a deep, slow-wave sleep but it’s not natural sleep, Brantner explains. After about four hours, your body metabolizes the alcohol and the sedative effects wear off.
That’s when you experience the “the rebound effect,” Brantner says. You wake up, feeling as if you’ve received a dose of a stimulant, and find it difficult to fall back asleep. Plus, you probably have to go to the bathroom.
This disruption causes you to miss out on REM sleep, which is when your brain processes information, makes memories, and sweeps itself of toxins. A 2017 study in the journal Neurology found that people who get less REM sleep are more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.
Women tend to experience alcohol’s negative effects worse than men, Brantner notes. “This could be related to the fact that women’s bodies metabolize alcohol quicker than men’s, so they can reach that second half of disrupted sleep more quickly.”
The fix: Stop the sauce five to six hours before bedtime, Brantner says. One or two alcoholic drinks at happy hour should metabolize fully before you hit the hay.