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"It's A Triple Whammy In Terms Of Disrupting Sleep": 7 Sneaky Foods And Drinks To Avoid If You Struggle To Get A Good Night's Sleep

If you’re one of the millions out there who struggle with sleep, you’ve likely tried all the most-talked-about remedies. Maybe there’s chamomile tea in your pantry and melatonin supplements in your bathroom cabinet. You already know it’s not a good idea to consume caffeine in the late afternoon and that even though that glass of wine may help you initially drift off to sleep, you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night regretting it.

Still struggling? You could be unknowingly consuming something that’s to blame. According to sleep doctors, there are more foods and drinks that can mess with sleep than people realize. Rounded up here are seven foods and drinks that sleep doctors recommend steering clear of if you struggle with sleep. Plus, they offer guidance on which foods will work for you, not against you.   

1. Spicy foods 

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Digging into some hot chicken wings or curry at dinner could cause sleep problems when you head to bed. Dr. Abhinav Singh, a board-certified sleep medicine and internal medicine doctor, is medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center and a medical reviewer for Sleep Foundation. He told HuffPost that eating food that’s spicier than you’re used to can increase acidity in the stomach, which can cause acid reflux that can make sleeping difficult. Singh explained that gastric acid is already naturally higher at night, and if it continues to rise, it can disrupt sleep.

Dr. Ruchir P. Patel, a sleep medicine doctor and medical director of The Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona, agreed. “Eating spicy food close to going to bed can cause acid reflux, which can trigger the brain to wake up excessively.”

In addition to triggering acid reflux, Singh said, spicy food can make people feel hotter, which can also disrupt sleep.

2. Pizza (or anything with tomato sauce)

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Patel said many people don’t realize that tomato sauce can be an acid reflux trigger, which can disrupt sleep similarly to the effect of spicy food. That means having pizza or spaghetti for dinner could keep you up.

In general, Patel said, it’s best to avoid eating food that’s high in sodium and saturated fat (like pizza, especially if it has pepperoni) three hours before bed because it takes longer to digest, which can then cause sleep problems.

3. Burgers

Person eating a large cheeseburger with both hands
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Like greasy pizza, burgers are another food that takes the body longer to digest. For this reason, Singh said, eating a big, juicy burger too close to bedtime could keep you up, especially if it has ketchup on it, which, again, can trigger sleep-disrupting acid reflux.

If you want a burger that will help with sleep rather than disrupt it, choose a plant-based burger made with lentils, which Singh said are easier to digest, or, if you are going to have beef, go for as lean a cut as possible.

4. Ice cream

Person holding a cup of frothy coffee with a spoon, on a wooden surface
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You might want to resist having a bowl of ice cream for dessert if you’re dealing with sleep issues. Dr. Raj Dasgupta, the chief medical adviser for Sleep Advisor, told HuffPost that foods high in sugar, such as ice cream, can keep you up. “The high sugar content can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar, cause stomach issues, and keep you alert at bedtime, preventing you from relaxing and falling asleep,” he said.

Singh also said that chocolate ice cream in particular can keep you up. “Many people don’t know that chocolate has caffeine,” Singh said, adding that dark chocolate has more caffeine than milk chocolate. Singh explained that the high fat, high sugar and high caffeine in chocolate ice cream is a triple whammy in terms of disrupting sleep.

5. Milk

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In movies, TV shows, and children’s books, kids are often given a glass of milk before bedtime. But in real life, Patel said, this can make falling asleep harder.

Milk can trigger acid reflux,” he said, adding that this can happen to both children and adults. Patel explained that the lactose in milk can be problematic. If you are prone to acid reflux but want to have milk in the evening, his advice is to choose a plant-based milk, which is lactose-free and shouldn’t cause symptoms.

6. Vitaminwater

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Though most people know that caffeine can disrupt sleep, Patel revealed that not everyone realizes they’re consuming something with caffeine in it. “Some fancy water brands, like Vitaminwater, can have up to 50 milligrams of caffeine,” he said. Singh added that some electrolyte drinks or powders can also contain caffeine.

7. Peppermint

A tin of mints half-opened on a table
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Sucking on a peppermint after dinner or sipping peppermint tea seems pretty innocuous. But Singh said that this can cause sleep problems for some people. Why? Like many other foods on this list, he said that peppermint can trigger acid reflux, a link most people aren’t aware of.

What To Eat Instead

Now that we know greasy foods, spicy foods, and ice cream are off the menu, what can you eat that will work in your favor? All three sleep doctors recommend eating a dinner that includes complex carbs, fiber, and lean protein. Examples of complex carbs high in fibre are most vegetables, brown rice, lentils, beans, whole wheat bread, and quinoa. Examples of lean protein are poultry and fish.

Dasgupta explained that these types of food support healthy digestion, which in turn is good for sleep. Scientific research backs this up, showing that a diet high in fiber, complex carbs, protein, and unsaturated fats is connected with good sleep.

Singh says that meal timing matters, too. If you are going to eat close to bedtime or want a nighttime snack, he recommends keeping the portion small, under 300 calories. “A handful of nuts is a good nighttime snack because it has fiber and unsaturated fats,” he said.

What we eat and drink has a powerful effect on the body, including how well (or not) we sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, avoid the seven foods and drinks on this list to see if it makes a difference. Soon you might not need that melatonin after all.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost.