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May 10, 2012


Getting a good night's sleep is paramount for many reasons. During slumber, many bodily processes are hard at work. Cells form and repair, muscles grow and memories are made. Many external factors can interrupt sleep: a snoring spouse, loud neighbors and lights. But, there are some things you can control to promote better sleep hygiene, including watching what you eat and when you eat it.


If late-night Mexican food sounds good, give yourself a few hours before going to bed if you've loaded up on spicy salsa or potent peppers. Eating spicy or acidic foods before bed can cause heartburn or indigestion, which in turn can create discomfort before falling asleep. If you must eat a meal before bed, steer clear of foods labeled "hot."

Meals Before Bed

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you finish eating two to three hours before bedtime. You may be ready to fall asleep, but if you've enjoyed a large meal or eaten fatty foods before bed, your stomach may have other plans. It has more work to do before it can rest and because the stomach needs to work hard to start the digestion process, you may not be able to fall asleep.

Weight Gain

A 2009 study by researchers at Northwestern University shows that eating at irregular times, such as in the middle of the night, can influence weight gain. The project involved mice eating the same amount of calories, but at different times. The subjects that ate during normal sleeping hours gained significantly more weight. The Northwestern researchers believe the weight gain is related to the body's circadian clock, which controls daily cycles such as eating, sleeping and energy use. This, researchers say, suggests the timing of meals can matter to how calories are processed.

Snack Before Bed

While eating a large meal before bed is frowned upon, going to bed on an empty stomach isn't always the best answer either; hunger pangs can make you uncomfortable---and thinking about food could keep you awake. A sleep tip article from Harvard Medical Review suggests a light snack before bed, something that will not disturb your sleep, such as a dairy product or a carbohydrate. A sleep hygiene guide from Princeton University Health Services echoes that advice, adding that foods containing L-tryptophan can help promote sleep, including milk, turkey and tuna.

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