Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Sleep Disorders Health Center

Font Size

What You Eat Can Sabotage Your Sleep

Experts tell why your daytime activities may be causing insomnia at night.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. You stare in the dark at the numbers glaring back at you on your alarm clock. It is 3 a.m., and the makings of another night of interrupted sleep and frustration are apparent. As you contemplate what is wrong with you, think about this: It may be what you do during the day that's giving you insomnia at night.

Sleep is one of the most important needs in life. All creatures need it to function. Without it, we break down mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can cause moodiness, lack of concentration, and sluggishness. But why is it so essential? Researchers still don't know.

Recommended Related to Sleep Disorders

Sleep Lab: An Inside Look

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I snore. I’ve always snored, but I’ve only recently been able to admit it publicly. When I was eight years old, my concerned parents took me to a specialist, who declared my adenoids unfit and scheduled an immediate surgical removal in the hopes of resolving my snoring problem. Normally, the medical team would take the tonsils at the same time, based on the theory that one bad set of vestigial organs may lead to another. Not mine. My doctor left my tonsils intact...

Read the Sleep Lab: An Inside Look article > >

Regardless, Americans with their jam-packed schedules often try to delay sleep as much as possible and may unknowingly do other things that could hinder sleep when they actually do want it. In fact, diet and other lifestyle habits could be secretly sabotaging efforts to get a few much-needed ZZZs.

"We know that certain foods that we consume can interfere with sleep, says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "The most obvious one in terms of stimulating wakefulness would be caffeine, and then there's nicotine."

Nearly half of Americans report having insomnia at least on occasion, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Adults need an average of eight hours of sleep to function well. Older people tend to need a little less -- about 7.5 hours. It's estimated that nearly half of people over age 65 have sleeping difficulties. This can stem from changes in lifestyle, such as napping more during the day, discomfort from physical conditions, such as arthritis, and emotional difficulties and depression. Check Your Heartburn Symptoms

But lifestyle habits can play a leading role in quality of sleep, too, or lack thereof. So the first thing you should do is analyze your patterns and environment. The Cleveland Clinic recommends these tips for good sleep "hygiene":

  • Not going to bed until you are tired
  • Setting a regular schedule to get up in the morning, even on weekends
  • Not napping during the day
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night
  • Not watching TV, eating, or reading in bed
  • Following the same bedtime rituals each night
  • Avoiding rigorous exercise three hours before bedtime
  • Getting out of bed when you can't fall asleep

Midnight Marauders

The list includes some major sleep bandits: caffeine and nicotine.

Caffeine late in the day is a no-no -- that includes items such as chocolate, teas, and sodas. But it's not always obvious where caffeine lurks, says Hunt, so make sure to check food labels.

"Everyone is aware that coffee can keep them awake; what they're not necessarily appreciating is there's caffeine or related items in many other things that they consume," he tells WebMD.

Today on WebMD

Alcohol Disrupting Your Sleep
Article
Sweating Evaluator
Article
 
Lavender sprig
Article
Always Sleepy Causes Fixes For Fat
Slideshow
 

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

How Many Hours Did You Sleep Last Night?
Is that amount of sleep typical for you?
Did you get enough sleep to feel alert today and function at your best?

Get the latest Sleep Disorders newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
0-6
7-8
9+

Your level is currently

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

Did You Know Lifestyle Choices
Impact Your Sleep?

Use the WebMD Sleep Tracker to track
your ZZZs over time.

Get Started

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Young woman sleeping
Quiz
Cannot sleep
Video
 
child sitting in bed
Article
Woman with insomnia
Quiz
 

nurse sleeping
ARTICLE
Foods That Help Or Harm Your Sleep
SLIDESHOW
 
Insomnia 20 Tips For Better Sleep
Slideshow
Pain at Night
ARTICLE