UI Employee Assistance Program

Campus Address
121-50 USB
Mailing Address

121 University Services Building, Suite 50
Iowa City, IA 52242-1911
United States

Is Your Diet Keeping You Awake?

Foods/habits that interfere with sleep Foods/habits that promote sleep
Caffeine Warm milk
Alcohol Chamomile tea
Heavy meals (high fat, high volume, spicy) Light snacks
High-fat diet Tryptophan containing foods (dairy products, poultry, bananas, oats, honey)
High-protein foods near bedtime Complex carbohydrate food with dairy products (cereal and milk, yogurt and fruit, crackers and low fat cheese)
Fluids late in day Regular meal/snack routine
Some medications Regular exercise, outside as possible, not too close to bedtime


Moderate amounts of caffeine (the equivalent of 2-3 cups of brewed coffee daily, or about 300 mg) are not harmful for most people. Individuals vary in sensitivity to caffeine, so if you have trouble sleeping, try to avoid caffeine several hours before going to sleep. For some people, this may mean early afternoon.

Drinks/Foods with Caffeine

  • Coffee
  • Decaf coffee (contains small amounts)
  • Soft drinks (especially cola drinks, but check labels)
  • Energy drinks
  • Chocolate
  • "Enhanced" waters (check label)
  • Over-the-counter medications (see section on medications)


While alcohol may make you sleepy, it is a stimulant that may later interfere with sleep. If you drink alcohol, try to avoid it within two to four hours of going to bed. Alternating alcoholic drinks with water may lessen the stimulant effect.

Heavy Meals

Eating heavy meals within four hours of going to bed may interfere with sleep. High-fat and high-protein foods take at least three hours to digest. Since the digestive system slows down with sleep, undigested food can cause discomfort that interferes with sleep. Spicy meals, especially if also high in fat, can increase indigestion, especially in people with GERD (gastric reflux disease). Some research suggests eating a high-fat diet may result in less restful sleep.


Drinking many fluids in the evening may interfere with sleep by causing you to wake to go to the bathroom. Some foods and drinks may also be bladder irritants in some people and increase the urge to urinate. Try to drink most fluids earlier in the day and less in the evening.

Possible bladder irritants:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Many fruits and juices (especially citrus)
  • Vinegar
  • Tomatoes

Nicotine and Medications

Nicotine is a stimulant and should be avoided close to bedtime. Some medications (both over the counter and prescription) may contain caffeine or other stimulants. If you are having trouble sleeping, ask your physician or pharmacist if it could be related to a medication and discuss other options such as taking it earlier in the day or changing the medication.

Medications that may have a stimulant effect:

  • Weight loss pills
  • Cold and allergy medications
  • Maximum strength Anacin
  • Diuretics
  • Extra-strength Excedrine
  • Anti-depressants

To Encourage Sleep

Warm Milk and Other Dairy Foods

Warm milk has a soothing effect both from the tryptophan (a component of the protein in milk known to convert to serotonin, a hormone which promotes relaxation) and from the warmth. Other dairy foods, poultry, oats and some other foods also contain tryptophan, so eating any of these close to bedtime can help encourage sleep.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile and the warmth of tea may both help induce sleep.

Light Snack

If you find you are hungry at bedtime or waking up hungry, a light snack may help. Best foods for sleep are a combination of those containing tryptophan (dairy foods, poultry) and complex carbohydrates (bread, crackers, etc). If warm milk and toast are not your preferences, try cereal and milk (especially oatmeal), yogurt and toast, or low-fat cheese and crackers.

Regular Eating, Exercise, and Sleep Habits

Regular exercise, especially outside, can contribute to more restful sleep. Cardio exercise within two to three hours of bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep, but if done earlier in the day, it can promote deeper sleep. Regular meal and snack times, as well as having a consistent sleep schedule (going to bed and getting up fairly close to the same times), also help improve sleep.

More Information

Caffeine Content of Food and Drugs (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
Foods That Help or Harm Your Sleep Slideshow (WebMD)