Anyone who's had pizza-fueled dreams or late-night jitters from a too-late cup of coffee knows that what you eat (and drink) before bedtime can make a big difference when it comes to your sleep.
We spoke with three sleep experts to find out their bedtime noshing habits to see if we could pick up on any smart ideas. Here are their strategies to get smooth entry into dreamland.
1. Wind down with warm, comforting tea.
Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, founder of The Huffington Post, and author of 15 books, including Thrive and The Sleep Revolution
My favorite drink before bed is a cup of chamomile, lavender, or licorice tea, which I'll have right before bedtime — it's warm and comforting and helps me begin to wind down and say goodbye to the day. Unless I'm in Greece, where dinner is so late, I try to leave at least two hours between dinner and sleep, and I try not to drink any caffeine after around 2 p.m., which is what the experts recommend.
I also avoid sugar and alcohol late at night: Contrary to the hotel habit of putting chocolates or cookies on your pillow, sugar doesn't help you sleep well. And, contrary to the idea of a nightcap, neither does alcohol! That's why I love my teas that help me relax.
2. Keep snacks small — and no guzzling liquids, either.
Jocelyn Cheng, MD, a neurologist specializing in sleep medicine and epilepsy at NYU Langone Health
If I do snack before I fall asleep, I try to make it small so it isn't inclined to cause me anything like heartburn. If I choose to have something salty or sweet, I'll limit it to a small serving. I am unfortunately a person who snacks at night so I have to watch it. And that's obviously not good policy either dietary-wise, but if you must, then keep the portions very small!
Aside from avoiding caffeinated stuff, I try not to drink a huge amount. I don't want to go to bed thirsty, but I also try not to drink a giant volume because I don't want to have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. That's just common sense, though!
3. If you have a late dinner, eat light.
Terry Cralle, RN, MS, CPHQ, certified sleep educator, and co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top
Late dinners ruin my sleep! So if a long workday or event means eating after 7:30 p.m., I'll try to eat less than what I'd normally have. Otherwise that "too full" feeling makes it difficult for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. I have a pact with my better half — if we do a late dinner out, we split an entrée. (Yes, he calls me the "sleep police.")
I often have a cup of chamomile tea — it's calming, relaxing, and it's a critical step in my bedtime routine. Having a cup of tea forces me to take a few minutes to reflect and write in my gratitude journal. The tea helps signal my brain and body that it's time for sleep. I always tell people it's not like flipping a switch from being wide awake to falling asleep. We all need some time to transition.
I find it interesting that people don't take their before bed drinks and food into account when they are experiencing problems falling or staying asleep. I always ask about it when I take a sleep history from a patient. In one of my workshops last month, a gentleman told me it was a nightmare falling asleep every night and when he went through the typical night, he said he had a cup of coffee every night after dinner!
How do you wind down at night?