photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
We all know taking down a Lady and the Tramp-sized plate of pasta minutes before bedtime isn’t the fastest route to sound sleep—but what are the optimal times you should eat pre-sleeping? And what foods should you avoid when you eat close to bedtime, either out of necessity or (perhaps) jet lag?
Here, we talked to Brooklinen co-founder Vicki Fulop and nutritionist Alix Turoff to glean their best tips on what (and when) to eat before bedtime.
Consider Your Symptoms
Turoff notes that the first consideration when thinking about how long to wait between eating and bed is acid reflux. “I usually tell my clients with acid reflux to wait at least two hours between eating and bedtime to avoid worsening their symptoms,” she says.
The Two-Hour Rule
Fulop says that to get the best possible sleep, you’ll want to stop eating two hours before bedtime in order to allow your food to digest. “If you get a late night snack attack, it’s best to stick to something light and gentle on the belly,” she says. “Anything too spicy or heavy may give you heartburn or have you running to the bathroom, which leads to the opposite of a restful sleep.” She also suggests staying away from anything too salty, lest you wake up feeling parched.
Happy Hour Is Early For A Reason
What you’re drinking before bed can also impact your quality of sleep. Fulop notes, “We know we should cut back on coffee after 2 pm or so to keep from feeling wired at night, but drinks like soda, teas, and even decaf coffee have caffeine lurking around as well,” she says. While a glass of wine might make you initially drowsy, having alcohol before bed can interfere with your REM cycle and leave you tossing and turning. “This may explain why you don’t feel your best the morning after happy hour runs long!”
The Myth Of Late-Night Eating
Turoff adds that for those without acid reflux, there really is no hard and fast rule that needs to be followed. “Whether you had 100 calories of pretzels in the afternoon or 100 calories of pretzels right before bed, you still had 100 calories of pretzels, and there's nothing that really changes to make them inherently more fattening at night,” she explains. That said, she recommends a better use of carbohydrates by eating those pretzels earlier in the day, because they can provide an energy boost to help one get through the afternoon.
It’s Easier To Overeat At Night
What Turoff does find is it's much easier to overeat at night. “You just had a long day at work, chores, etc. You may be in a bad mood, you may be tired—but either way, you're in a reactive mode,” she explains. “You sit down to eat a snack, and before you know it, you've polished off a sleeve of cookies or a bag of chips because you're likely just tired and not paying much attention.”
Turoff says that it becomes harder to listen to your hunger cues at the end of the day, but if you're able to indulge mindfully in a late night snack and stop when you're full, there's nothing wrong.
Limit Carbs Post-Dinner
Turoff recommends that anyone with blood sugar issues—such as pre-diabetics or diabetics—limit carbohydrates after dinner to avoid spiking one’s blood sugar. “For these people, when they want an afternoon snack, I'll usually recommend something like cheese or veggies with guacamole,” she says.
Some Foods Stimulate Sleep
Turoff says to look for foods that have tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted into serotonin and melatonin (two brain chemicals that promote relaxation). “Think about turkey and the sleepy feeling you get after a Thanksgiving meal,” she says. “High fiber, whole grain carbohydrates such as a slice of sprouted bread with some almond butter also help to produce serotonin.” Foods that contain calcium and magnesium (such as milk or yogurt) are also great for promoting healthy sleep, Turoff notes. “Think about that cup of warm milk before bed!”
Turoff says that a cup of herbal decaf tea is also a good choice, especially chamomile or valerian tea. “Add a teaspoon or so of honey for some extra tryptophan, and you have a great bedtime cocktail,” she says. Finally, Turoff adds that the most important thing to avoid is overstuffing yourself. “It's hard to fall asleep if you feel physically uncomfortable,” she says.