11 Foods That Disrupt Your Sleep

Avoid these rest-sappers to gain energy for your next run.

Natalie Rizzo |

My running partner Audra Boyle always looks like a bleary-eyed zombie when she arrives at the starting line of a race. While sucking down a caffeinated GU energy gel, she recounts her sleepless night of tossing, turning, running to the bathroom, and finally passing out around 3am.

Like many runners, Audra attributes her poor night’s rest to pre-race jitters – but it could have been something she ate. Some foods have characteristics, such as a certain macronutrient breakdown or a particular chemical compound such as saturated fat, that can mess with your sleep. Feeling more groggy than energised before a run? Avoid these 11 sleep-sappers.

Coconut Oil

Using this trendy oil for your stir-fry seems like a good idea, but it can have a negative impact on Z’s. A study in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that consuming hexadecanoic acid, a saturated fat found in coconut oil, may interfere with your ability to clock a solid eight. Instead, opt for olive oil, which only contains unsaturated fat and boasts additional heart-health benefits.


Although tea before bed is a common ritual, this warm beverage has two strikes against it in the sleep department. Black and green teas have caffeine and another sleep-disturbing compound called theobromine, which can act as a diuretic and increase your heart rate. Choose herbal non-caffeinated tea (e.g. rooibos) to avoid both of these stimulants; and drink it a few hours before bed, to give you enough time to use the bathroom if needed.

Tomato Sauce

When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, you’ll want to pass on this pasta topper. The acidity in the tomatoes can cause heartburn for those who suffer from acid reflux, and tomato sauce also contains the amino acid tyramine. This triggers the brain to release norepinephrine, a stimulant that boosts brain activity and inhibits sleep.


Although you may only eat a small amount, chocolate naturally contains caffeine, which may be problematic for those who aren’t used to consuming it regularly. Like tea, this sweet treat also has the stimulating compound theobromine. But don’t panic­. If you have to get your fix, white chocolate is a good substitute, as it’s naturally caffeine-free.


We know: nothing tastes as good as a cold beer after a long run, or a glass of wine at the end of a busy day. But hear us out: while alcohol is a natural depressant that may help you feel drowsy, it actually makes it difficult to go into a deep sleep, which affects how rested you feel in the morning. Plus, a hangover is definitely not the way you want to start a long run. There’s nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation, but be conscious of your consumption during training blocks or before a big event such as a race.


Sure, go ahead and treat yourself to a juicy filet mignon every once in a while; but not when you need a good night’s sleep. Research shows that eating foods high in saturated fat, such as steak, interferes with deep sleep. These foods also take longer to digest, causing indigestion that can keep you up at night. Whenever possible, stick to veggie-based dishes, lean proteins, or fish.

Fizzy Cooldrinks

It’s no secret that this sugary stuff isn’t great for anyone’s diet, especially a runner’s; but regularly consuming cooldrinks, which usually have both caffeine and sugar, has also been linked to short sleep duration. On the flip side, a glass of tart cherry juice before bed can help ward off insomnia.

Chips and Dips

Unfortunately for flavour lovers, spicy foods – looking at you, nachos with salsa! – can trigger heartburn, which can be exacerbated when lying down. And new research has found that eating less sodium throughout the day will reduce your bathroom trips at night. Skip the salty chips and salsa, or try ordering mild guacamole with a side order of crudités instead.


A glass of water before bed is fine (and encouraged!), but trying to hydrate for your morning run by downing several glasses can lead to frequent bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. Instead, drink water regularly throughout the day, and take a water bottle on your morning run. You can also snack on water-rich fruits, such as kiwi fruit, which is a good source of sleep-inducing serotonin.

Ice Cream

This is going to be unpopular advice, but you might want to put down that spoon. Foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar and low in fibre can result in less restorative sleep with more midnight waking. Unfortunately, this frozen treat fits the bill. If the craving calls, try making ‘nice’ cream by blending one frozen banana with ½ cup of fruit or a tablespoon of nut butter, for a healthier alternative.


If you’re the type of guy who douses everything in this hot sauce, you may want to think twice the night before a race. Similar to salsa, the spiciness can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms for some, and hinder your shut-eye. Instead, add a dash of chilli powder to your food for a smoky flavour without all the spice.

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