There are a lot of things that can conspire to keep you up all night: The slumping markets. The rising prices. That recurring nightmare about being chased down the street by Steven Tyler's lips. But if you're having trouble getting a good night's sleep, here's a culprit you might not have looked at: Your diet. Turns out that plenty of late-night snacks can actually interfere with sleep—and conspire to make you gain more weight than you should.
It's true: When food keeps you awake at night, it's actually doing a double-whammy on your tummy. In a study from Wake Forest University, adults younger than 40 who slept 5 hours or less gained more abdominal fat over a 5-year period than those who slept for 6 or 7 hours a night. (You think Jimmy Kimmel looks like that by accident?) And worse, in a recent study from the European Heart Journal, researchers found that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night are at a higher risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
What are these late-night dietary double-crossers? And how can you tweak your diet so you not only burn calories day and night, but get the added fitness burst of a good night's sleep? Eat This, Not That! has (tirelessly) compiled a list. Let's find out...
WORST LATE-NIGHT DINNER
Beef Ribeye (8 oz)
33.5 g fat (13 g saturated)
If you eat dinner late, avoid big, fatty beef cuts. They digest slowly, which means your body has to keep active when you want it to be in shutdown mode. Plus, the heavy dose of protein will pump you full of tyrosine, an amino acid that triggers neurons in your brain to become more active. That's not something you want before you nod off. If you must appease your grumbling, stick with poultry as your main meat. The tryptophan in turkey and chicken induces serotonin, a compound that plays an instrumental role in regulating sleep cycles. And the bun that holds the chicken? That helps, too. An Australian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that starchy carbs—like the ones in bread—can bolster the tryptophan and serotonin spikes.
Eat This Instead!
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
15 g fat (3 g saturated)
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WORST LATE-NIGHT DESSERT
Chocolate Ice Cream (1 cup premium brand)
31 g fat (20 g saturated)
40 g sugar
Just about the worst thing you can put into your body right before bedtime is sugar. Sugar is that fast-burning energy that your body wants to use as quickly as possible, but that's hard to do while you're sleeping. So instead, your body does the next best thing—it stores most of the sugar as fat. But there are plenty of sugary snacks out there, why pick on chocolate ice cream? Because chocolate contains caffeine—not as much as a cup of coffee, but more than you should consume if you're worried about sleeping soundly. To get the sweetness you crave, try yogurt with granola and fruit. Granola is made from oats, which are a good source of tryptophan, and bananas contain a heavy dose of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your body's circadian rhythm.
Eat This Instead!
Lowfat yogurt (1/2 cup) with 1 chopped banana and 2 Tbsp granola
6 g fat (2 g saturated)
26 g sugars
Bonus Tip: Look, you can still eat ice cream, just don't wolf it down right before you hit the sack. And of course, limit your indulgence to varieties that won't turn to flab the second you ingest them. You can find the best right here: 15 Desserts That Burn Fat!
WORST NIGHT CAP
Black tea with 1 Tbsp sugar (8 fl oz)
0 g fat
12.5 g sugars
Sure, black tea is a better late-night choice than black coffee. And you can cut the sugar content in half by adding honey instead. But, chances are, you'll still be tossing and turning in bed an hour later. That's because black teas have beween 40 and 120 milligrams of caffeine—about half that of a cup of coffee. The better choice? Rooibos tea. This red tea has no caffeine and is naturally sweet—no need to add sugar or honey. Plus, it contains antioxidants that studies have shown can lower blood pressure and boost immune function.
Drink This Instead!
Celestial Seasonings Red Tea (8 fl oz)
0 g fat
0 g sugar
Bonus Tip: Watch out for liquid calories! They add up frighteningly fast, and here's the proof: The 20 Worst Drinks in America. (Want an entire day's worth of calories with your drink? Yikes!)
WORST MIDNIGHT SNACK
Cap'n Crunch (1 cup)
2 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
16 g sugars
1 g fiber
No food comes to the rescue faster than cereal when you need a quick midnight snack. But if you plan on falling asleep, do yourself a favor and avoid the hyper-sweetened kid stuff. A bowl of Cap'n Crunch has nearly as much sugar as a Hershey's Take 5 bar and scarcely any fiber to prevent it from hijacking your blood sugar. (Here's a list of another dozen Worst Cereals in America.)
That said, a little dose of carbs can actually improve your sleep, but the best cereal is one that contains as much fiber as it does sugar. Formulated with whole grain corn, Kix has just that. Simply add a banana if you need something sweeter!
Eat This Instead!
Kix (1 cup)
1 g fat (0 g saturated)
2.5 g sugars
2.5 g fiber
RELATED STORY: Smart snacking can work wonders on your waistline, too, but it can be a challenge to find options that keep the sugar low and the protein and fiber high. That's why we put together The 50 Best Snack Foods in America to help keep you lean and full all day long! Check it out.
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