BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's an agonizing feeling. Your mind is ready to fall asleep, but your body just won't let you drift into dreamland. It could be caused by lots of things, including certain foods.
The average American goes to bed between 10 p.m. and midnight, and the average American eats dinner around 8 p.m. It takes food three to five hours to fully digest, meaning some of us are tossing and turning because of what and when we're eating.
Experts say you should never eat a big meal before bed, but there are a few foods in particular to eat earlier rather than later.
Celery is a natural diuretic, meaning it contains water. Melons and other fruits and veggies are similar. They could give you the urge to get up and use the bathroom.
Tomatoes have a high water content too, but there's something else inside them called tyramine. This amino acid triggers the release of norepinephrine, which can send your brain into 'fight or flight mode.'
"This stimulates you to be more awake and active and stimulates stress hormones, so it's really not a great thing to eat right before bedtime," said Dr. Courtney Peterson, an assistant professor and researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Peterson studies the relationship between food and disease.
Broccoli is high in fiber. It takes longer for the bacteria inside your gut to digest high-fiber foods.
"High-fiber foods slow down the rate of your digestion actually even before it hits your gut, so it'll slow down how quickly your stomach processes the food," Peterson explained.
Beans are especially hard to digest and cause bloating.
That's similar to foods high in fat, like pizza. Fried foods fall in that category too.
High-protein is not much better before bed. A big steak with marbled fat can also take much longer to digest.
"Newer research is starting to show that these foods (high-protein & high-fat) may actually directly disrupt the body's circadian rhythms, rather than just making you feel heavy, for example, before bedtime, and so there's some evidence now that it's much better to eat these foods earlier
in the day," Peterson said.
Spicy foods like tacos can actually stimulate your appetite and cause you to eat more. They can also increase stress levels and metabolic rate, which could then increase body temperature.
If you have a sweet tooth, resist the urge for a treat before bed. Candy or anything else sugary spikes your blood sugar, and then comes the crash.
"What happens is, during the crash you can get the release of cortisol and other stress hormones as well, plus you'll be hungry, you'll be looking for food,"
Dark chocolate (while delicious) contains caffeine. The more cocoa or cacao, the more caffeine, and that could mean less sleep.
Alcohol is another big no-no. The substance impairs both restorative sleep and REM sleep that helps memory.
FOODS THAT HELP PROMOTE SLEEP
Bananas are naturally high in melatonin, a hormone that can make it easier to fall asleep.
Many nuts and seeds contain the vitamin B6, which helps the body produce more melatonin. The same goes for some meats and beans, but only in moderation and not too close to bedtime.
Tart cherry juice is also high in melatonin, a fact recently uncovered by Pennington scientists.
"We had a research study seeing whether tart cherry juice would improve sleep, and we did find that it increased the quality and duration of sleep," Peterson said.
One of the latest Pennington studies is called "Timed Eating." Participants eat all three of their daily meals early in the day, then compare results with their meals more spaced out.
"Newer research suggests that actually eating your food earlier in the day may be beneficial for more than just sleep," Peterson explained. "We
know that your blood sugar control in most people, unless you have diabetes, is better in the morning."
There's also evidence the body's metabolism works better earlier in the day, helping you burn a few more calories.
"We still need men age 35 – 70 who are overweight to participate in the study. It involves two 5-week eating periods. We provide all the food for you, you just have to follow the schedules," Peterson said.