It is estimated that around 50% of people struggle with some form of insomnia in the United States. Even if you’re sleepy during the day or struggle with staying alert, you may find yourself tossing and turning at night or even falling asleep but waking up repeatedly. Insomnia comes in many forms, and can be caused by many things—while for some people it is stress related, for others it may be triggered by the food you’re eating or your lifestyle. Insomnia can be made worse by the food you eat, so it’s important to know what foods should be avoided if you struggle with it.
According to Aimee Nicotera, a health coach, certified trainer, and exercise physiologist, types of insomnia can vary. “There are 3 general types of insomnia – acute, transient and chronic.” While acute insomnia is typically short term and caused by temporary stressors, transient insomnia lasts for less than a week, and may be triggered by a physical or psychological problem. On the other hand, chronic insomnia refers to insomnia lasting more than a month, and is most often associated with another co-existing medical or psychological problem.
While there isn’t one food that is single handedly making your insomnia worse, there are certain types you should avoid, or ingredients that may make it harder for your body to get into a relaxed, restful state. “Large portions and snacks excessively high in fat take longer to digest and may contribute to difficulty falling and staying asleep,” says Nicotera, “Also, snacks that are spicy or very acidic can trigger heartburn, which can make it challenging and uncomfortable to get to sleep.” The main foods in this category are fried foods, spicy salsas, and sauces.
If you do enjoy snacking at night, you don’t have to give up eating close to bedtime altogether. It’s more important to focus on the foods you’re eating rather than eating at all. “One of the simplest things to do is to keep the unhealthy foods out of the house or make it harder to access. Also, keep healthy snacks at arms reach, like berries, kiwi, nuts and seeds. [These foods] may even help you unwind and relax,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. Try swapping out the spicy, fried, heavy foods for nightly snacks that will nourish your body.
Insomnia can be incredibly frustrating to those who experience it. If you struggle with getting asleep or staying asleep in any way, try making lifestyle adjustments and see if it yields positive results. If your insomnia doesn’t get better, or affects your day-to-day life, consult your doctor to come up with a treatment plan uniquely tailored to your needs.