December 12, 2021

In Italy, food is much more than a source of sustenance and energy. It’s part of daily life. It reflects the local culture and is a source of pleasure. It’s also a big part of overall wellness. Therefore any foods that kill sleep are to be avoided when possible. Italians take their sleep seriously!  

This isn’t always easy, as many of the most appealing food choices are the very same ones that might keep us up at night if consumed too late in the day. But somehow Italians always seem to find balance, in line with the cultural indoctrination of a Mediterranean Diet. These choices become a habit and not a force of will. 

The Italian physician Valter Longo, known for his studies on healthy aging and longevity cites sleep as key factor in short-term memory retention.

So if you want to avoid foods that affect your sleep. Take some cues from our Italian friends.

Foods That Kill Sleep

Obviously everyone’s body is different, but in general there are foods that kill your sleep, and then there are foods that help you sleep. If you’re looking for ways to get a good night’s sleep, avoiding the following foods might be a good place to start.

Caffeinated Drinks

First, the most obvious: for better sleep avoid caffeine. Avoid drinking coffee, tea, or any other caffeinated beverages late in the day. Caffeine is a known stimulant and can keep people awake at night. 

Consuming caffeine too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to cut off the caffeinated beverages at least six hours before bedtime. Instead, reach for a sleep-inducing cup of chamomile tea.

Excess Alcohol

Italians love their wine, but always in moderation. A glass of wine or two may help you fall asleep faster, but too much alcohol interferes with quality sleep. It can also lead to waking up in the middle of the night and then grogginess the next day.

To reduce sleep disruptions, stop drinking alcohol at least four hours before bed. Alcohol also disrupts your circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that regulates our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Deep Fried Foods

Heavy foods, including deep fried anything, slow stomach emptying and delay digestion. The result: that brick sitting in your stomach feeling, and an increased risk of heartburn.

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found that eating lots of deep-fried foods can lead to poor sleep quality and increased daytime sleepiness.

The study looked at the eating habits of nearly 1,600 people, and found that those who ate the most deep-fried foods were more likely to have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. They were also more likely to suffer from daytime sleepiness.

Meat High in Saturated Fats

A higher intake of saturated fat is associated with reduced sleep length. In contrast, foods with more fiber and less saturated fat have been shown to improve sleep quality.

If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, avoid foods that are high in unhealthy fats and opt for something lighter instead. Try grilled chicken or fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, or whole grain toast. These foods will help you stay full and alert, but will not make you feel weighed down.

Spicy Foods

It’s no secret that spicy foods can cause heartburn and indigestion. But did you know that they can also keep you up at night? Spicy foods can trigger the body’s response to stress, which in turn can disrupt your sleep.

Hot peppers and spices offer health benefits, including longevity. But, too close to bed they can also trigger heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux, which can hamper sleep.  Instead, try eating something light and soothing, like yogurt or a banana.

Foods That Help You Sleep

There are a number of foods that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Foods that are high in magnesium and potassium, such as bananas, can help you relax and fall asleep. Chamomile tea is another great option, as it is a natural relaxant.

Another example of a food that has been shown to help improve sleep is cherries. Cherries are high in melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s natural sleep rhythm. Consuming cherries before bed has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.

There are a number of foods that help you sleep. One reason is that they contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain. Foods that are high in tryptophan include turkey, cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.

Besides your diet, here are a few other sleep tips:

Exercise regularly. This can help you sleep better at night, and regular exercise can also reduce your stress levels.

Get out of bed if you cannot fall asleep within twenty minutes. Leave the bedroom and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Then go back to bed.

Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool for sleeping. Use an eye mask or earplugs if necessary to block out as much light and noise as possible.

Don’t drink too much water close to bedtime. Of course, water is vital for many bodily functions, including digestion and circulation. But too much late in the evening prompts the need to urinate while you should be sleeping.

Your Turn!

Do you have any tips for getting a good night’s sleep? Are there any foods that you avoid before bed because they keep you up at night? We want to hear from you! Let us know about your sleep routines in the comments below.

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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