10 Foods That May Contribute to Your Insomnia

There are numerous risk factors for insomnia. In particular, some foods and beverages can affect the quality and duration of your sleep. This article discusses risk factors for insomnia, as well as 10 foods and beverages that can cause insomnia, and tips to help resolve insomnia.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep. Insomnia can interfere with your daily activities and might make you feel unrested or sleepy during the day. 

Man yawning while pouring coffee or tea

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Common reasons for insomnia include older age, stress, hormones, certain lifestyle habits, shift work, some foods and medications, and an unfavorable sleeping environment.

Insomnia Risk Factors

Risk factors for insomnia include:

  • Age (risk increases as you get older)
  • Being female
  • Family history and genetics
  • Stress
  • Working nights, early mornings, or changing shifts throughout the week
  • Using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or illegal drugs
  • Nighttime light or noise
  • Napping late or long during the day
  • Not getting enough physical activity during the day
  • Physical discomfort or pain

Link Between Insomnia and Food

What you eat can, directly and indirectly, affect your quality and duration of sleep. Certain foods or components in foods can disrupt your circadian rhythm (internal clock), altering your sleep patterns. If continued, this can cause insomnia.

Additionally, your diet has the ability to significantly alter your gut bacteria (which help you digest and absorb food), which can then affect other metabolic processes, including sleep. Long-term nutritional factors may also cause chronic inflammation, which has also been associated with insomnia.

Read on to learn about how certain foods and beverages can affect your sleep.

10 Foods and Drinks to Avoid

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychostimulant (a substance that stimulates the central nervous system) in the world. It is most commonly consumed in beverages, such as coffee and tea but can also be found in foods such as chocolate.

Many people use caffeine to give them energy to help stay awake. However, taking in too much caffeine can cause a decrease in total sleep time and quality of sleep, as well as affect the time you fall asleep.

Limiting caffeine intake from foods and beverages in the late afternoon and evening can help decrease its effect on sleep.

Black Tea

One cup of black tea contains about 47 milligrams of caffeine. This is about two-thirds the amount of caffeine found in coffee and one of the highest caffeine levels of all teas. Because of this, black tea can act as a stimulant and keep you awake at night.

To help prevent black tea from disrupting your sleep, stop drinking it at least two to three hours before bed.

Alcohol

Alcohol is another commonly used psychoactive substance. A lot of people use alcohol to help sleep. However, alcohol can interrupt healthy sleep patterns by disrupting sleep stages and leading to insomnia.

In addition, cross-sectional studies (observational studies analyzing data from a specific population at one point in time) have shown that alcohol may promote disturbances to your circadian rhythm and cause short sleep duration. Alcohol also increases breathing-related sleep events, such as snoring and low oxygen saturation levels, notably in people with preexisting conditions.

Cookies and Cakes

Foods high in fat and sugar, such as cookies and cake, can interrupt healthy sleep patterns, especially when eaten close to bedtime. The high saturated fat content of these baked goods can contribute to acid reflux (stomach acid irritating the esophagus).

Additionally, the high sugar content can raise your blood sugar levels, which leads to an increase in insulin and a compounding chain of events—which may result in poor sleep quality and insomnia. Studies are mixed on this, though, and more research is needed in this area.

White Bread

Refined grains and foods like white bread have a high glycemic index or contribute to a high glycemic load, meaning they easily raise your blood sugar levels. An analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative study showed an association between high-glycemic foods and insomnia.

Additional studies are needed to confirm the effect of carbohydrates on sleep quality and duration.

Sweets

Sweets, treats, and desserts are high in added sugars and saturated fats. Saturated fat and added sugars are linked to a myriad of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

As stated previously, foods high in sugar and saturated fat have been associated with poor sleep quality and sleep disturbances, including insomnia. Another study looking at diet in relation to sleep found that a high saturated fat and sugar intake was associated with lighter, less restorative sleep with more arousals.

Additionally, a 2017 study found that a greater intake of sugary caffeinated sodas was associated with short sleep. Whether this association was due to the caffeine or the sugar in the soda could not be determined, and further research is needed to draw conclusions.

Aged or Cured Foods

Aged and cured foods are often high in sodium, and a diet high in sodium is often linked to elevated blood pressure levels. The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been found to help reduce blood pressure levels. A study of adolescent girls found that a DASH-style diet lowered the risk of insomnia.

In addition, certain amino acids found in many aged and cured foods, such as cured red meats, can increase brain activity, and may cause sleeplessness.

Fried Foods and Fatty Meats

Foods high in fat, including deep-fried foods and meats high in fat take longer to digest. Eating these foods late at night may contribute to acid reflux and other digestive issues, resulting in decreased sleep quality.

Fast Food and Other Ultra-Processed Food

Fast foods and other highly processed foods are often high in sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars. Like other foods mentioned above, these types of foods can have detrimental effects on your health and sleep when consumed in excess.

Replacing these types of ultra-processed foods with a more whole-foods-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats will be beneficial for your sleep, and overall health, as well.

Nightshades

Nightshades are plants such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. The plants in the nightshade family all contain small amounts of glycoalkaloid compounds called solanine.

Solanine is part of the natural defense system of these plants and acts as a poison to insects that try to eat them. In extreme quantities, these compounds can also be toxic to humans.

Additionally, some people argue that these alkaloid compounds have a stimulatory effect that can cause insomnia in people who are sensitive to solanine. However, there have not been any quality clinical studies showing this association.

If you feel you are sensitive to solanine, try removing nightshades from your diet for two weeks to see if it helps improve your sleep.

Link Between Anxiety and Insomnia

Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse. Conversely, insomnia and other sleep problems are a risk factor for anxiety.

This can result in a cycle of anxiety and insomnia in a continual loop, each leading to one another if nothing is done to help resolve the issues. Working to decrease anxiety may help reduce sleep problems and improve insomnia.

Other Cures for Insomnia

Other ways to relieve insomnia include:

  • Set regular sleep and wake times: Allow for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, including on the weekends.
  • Create and follow a calming bedtime routine: Put away electronics and keep the lights low. Try taking a warm bath, reading a book, meditating, or listening to relaxing music.
  • Keep the room cool and quiet: Consider using a white noise machine or fan, and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
  • Participate in regular exercise: Exercise daily, preferably in the mornings and afternoons, as exercising too close to bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about herbs or medication: If you are still having problems falling asleep after trying other natural solutions and lifestyle changes, talk to your healthcare provider about possible herbal remedies or medications that might be appropriate for you.
  • Sleep with a wedge pillow: Raising your upper body can help prevent acid reflux (heartburn) during the night.
  • Try therapy: There are different therapy techniques that may help decrease insomnia, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or mindfulness-based therapy.

When to Stop Eating Before Bed

Eating too close to bedtime can cause sleep disruptions, including digestive issues, acid reflux, taking longer to fall asleep, and staying asleep.

For optimal sleep, stop eating at least two to three hours before bed. This allows time for your body to digest your meal and for your blood sugar and insulin levels to regulate post-meal.

Summary

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep. Risk factors for insomnia include older age, stress, hormones, certain lifestyle habits, shift work, some medications, and an unfavorable sleeping environment.

Additionally, certain foods and beverages can cause insomnia or make it worse. Avoiding or limiting these foods and beverages may help reduce your risk of sleep disturbances, allowing for a full and restful night's sleep.

A Word From Verywell

Struggling with insomnia can be exhausting and frustrating. If you continue to have difficulty sleeping after limiting or avoiding these foods, especially before bedtime, meet with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist about alternative treatment options. They can help you discover the cause of your insomnia and create a treatment plan to resolve your sleep problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What foods should you avoid if you have insomnia?

    People with insomnia should avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Additionally, foods high in sodium, saturated fat, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates should be limited, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

  • What are some foods that can help you sleep through the night?

    Some foods and beverages contain natural compounds, such as melatonin or tryptophan, that can help you sleep. Foods that might help you sleep better include turkey and other poultry, eggs, fish, nuts, beans, milk, oats, tart cherries, kiwi, soy beans, and chamomile tea.

  • Will insomnia ever go away completely?

    Yes. Most people with insomnia can resolve their sleep problems with some lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers. However, if you are struggling with chronic insomnia, work with your healthcare team to find the best treatment option for you.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.