6 Nighttime Cravings That Can Sabotage Your Sleep — and What to Eat Instead

Before you reach for that late-night snack, pump the brakes. Indulging nighttime cravings can do more than expand your waistline — your sleep might suffer, too.

Spicy salsa and salty chips may keep you up at night with digestive issues. (Image: VeselovaElena/iStock/GettyImages)

That's right: Certain foods can sabotage your shut-eye. Here, Carl Bazil, MD, PhD, director of Columbia University's Sleep Disorders Center, explains how some of your favorite comfort foods (and beverages) can disrupt your zzzs, plus what sleep-inducing snacks to eat instead

1. Alcohol

Why It's Not a Good Idea: Like to wine-down before bed? "Alcohol may make you feel relaxed, but, as it clears your bloodstream, it has an alerting effect," says Dr. Bazil. So, even though you might fall asleep with no problem, you're likely to find yourself tossing and turning a few hours later. Indeed, an August 2019 study published in Sleep found that consuming booze within four hours of bedtime led to fragmented zzzs.

What to Drink Instead: Moral of the story? Nix the nightcap. Guzzle a glass of milk instead, since it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which has mild sleep-enhancing properties, says Dr. Bazil. Not a dairy fan? Try some tart cherry juice. The melatonin — a sleep-inducing chemical — in cherries may help you drift off to dreamland faster and wake up less, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

2. Chocolate

Why It's Not a Good Idea: Bad news, chocolate lovers. Snacking on a few squares of chocolate at night may be stunting your sleep. That's because, in addition to energizing caffeine, chocolate — especially dark chocolate — also contains large amounts of theobromine, which is a stimulant too, says Dr. Bazil. As a matter of fact, for some people, "the stimulants in that delicious dark chocolate dessert may be the equivalent of an espresso before bedtime."

What to Eat Instead: Stick to a small handful of low-sugar granola. Foods rich in complex carbs, like the oats in granola, can help make you drowsy. That's because carbohydrates raise insulin levels, which results in an increase of amino acids that are necessary to produce sleep neurotransmitters like serotonin, says Dr. Bazil.

3. French Fries

Why It's Not a Good Idea: That late-night diner run may seem like a good idea now, but a greasy plate of french fries could leave you wide-eyed into the wee hours of the morning. That's because high-fat foods take longer to digest, and they can also cause gas, heartburn and indigestion. In other words, a super heavy, fatty meal may result in a great deal of digestive discomfort that makes it tough to dial down when you hit the sheets, says Dr. Bazil.

What to Eat Instead: Still got a fancy for fries? Try baked sweet potato fries instead. Like oats, the complex carbs in sweet potatoes can boost the production of serotonin, which is good for sleepy time.

Pizza isn't a good late-night snack option because fatty cheese and acidic tomato sauce can cause digestive woes. (Image: LauriPatterson/E+/GettyImages)

4. Pizza

Why It's Not a Good Idea: On top of high-fat cheese, which can bloat you and interfere with a sound slumber, the tomato sauce in pizza isn't doing you any favors in the sleep department either. Packed with both citric and malic acid, tomatoes and other high-acid foods can cause acid reflux. And there's nothing like a mean case of heartburn to keep you up at night.

What to Eat Instead: When you find yourself pining for pizza before bed, spread some cottage cheese on top of whole wheat crackers instead. Foods that are high in lean protein contain the amino acid tryptophan, which may boost serotonin levels, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

5. Ice Cream

Why It's Not a Good Idea: High in fat and sugar, ice cream is a less-than-ideal late-night craving. Not only will your tummy have a tough time digesting the fat, but the added sugar may even give you a burst of energy, says Dr. Bazil. Naturally, you don't want to be riding a sugar rush before bed.

What to Eat Instead: Need an ice cream substitute? Low-sugar plain yogurt with a light drizzle of honey is a good alternative. Or try making your own, lower-sugar version of the frozen treat, like this Strawberry Basil Ice Cream.

6. Spicy Salsa and Chips

Why It's Not a Good Idea: This popular pairing can be a lethal combo for sleep. For starters, chips are salty, which can make you thirsty and may lead you to guzzle a gallon of water. The issue? With a bursting bladder, you'll be waking up with the urge to pee during the night.

But sodium is only half the problem. Spicy foods like zesty salsa can also cause heartburn and stomach discomfort that can keep you awake, says Dr. Bazil. Plus, spicy snacks may raise your core body temperature, and being too warm isn't ideal for a restful slumber, per the National Sleep Foundation.

What to Eat Instead: To satisfy your savory craving, try a healthier alternative, like whole grain, air-popped popcorn. Go for a low-salt twist on this healthy snack, like this recipe for Grecian Popcorn.

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