When you have nights where you experience trouble falling asleep, you might be racking your brain on what’s causing your sleep troubles. Is it stress? Noisy neighbors? That evening workout? A number of these factors could have been at play for the 27 percent of 4,023 U.S. adults in the 2016 Consumer Reports survey who said they experience trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
Nevertheless, if you can’t pinpoint the reason you’re struggling to fall asleep even though you’re tired, look to what you ate and drank that day. Stealth sources of caffeine may be the culprit. We talked to Carlene Thomas, R.D.N. in the Washington D.C. area to help identify some beverages and foods that could be keeping you up at night.
An afternoon coffee or tea. “It takes approximately five or six hours for half of a cup of coffee’s caffeine to leave your system,” says Thomas. That means the caffeinated beverage you drank at 4 p.m. to help you make it through the afternoon energy slump could still be in your system around 10 or 11 PM. That said, try to make your afternoon java fix a small size and finish it before 2 PM. if you plan to be in bed before midnight.
A post-dinner decaf coffee. This innocent-sounding beverage seems like it wouldn’t keep you up at night, but there are still low doses of caffeine in decaf coffee, decaf green tea, and decaf black tea. For example, a tall decaf coffee at Starbucks contains 20 milligrams of caffeine and an average cup of home-brewed decaf coffee contains about 7 mg caffeine. So, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, skip the decaf after dinner.
Sodas. While you’re probably aware that cola sodas have caffeine, you should know that root beer, and some light-colored drinks like cream soda and Mountain Dew (54 mg per 12 oz) also contain caffeine. Sure, you might blame the sugar content for keeping you up at night, but be sure to check the labels before you crack a can and chug.
Wellness beverages. If you’re looking for a natural beverage that claims it’s energy-promoting, read the label beforehand to be conscious of caffeine consumption. “It may contain ‘stimulating’ ingredients like matcha or guarana,” says Thomas. Both plants contain caffeine and are used in energy supplements.
Pre-workout supplements or energy bars. Relying on a pre-workout to give you a boost for your evening workout? That supplement could contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee! Even if you engage in a long, hard workout, chances are that some of that stimulant will still be in your system when you’re trying to fall asleep. “Be aware that some ‘energy’ or ‘protein’ bars (including energy blocks, goos, gels, and chews) contain stimulating ingredients—like coffee or green tea—or are made from chocolate, which can add caffeine,” says Thomas. Have an energizing snack before your evening workout, like a piece of fruit, instead.
Chocolate. Before you tell yourself that having some dark chocolate after dinner is doing your heart favors with antioxidants, know that chocolate naturally contains caffeine. “I think the rule of thumb is, the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content,” says Thomas. For example, a 1 oz serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate bar has about 20 milligrams of caffeine, more than twice that of their milk chocolate version. Remember, even a cup of hot chocolate that you might be tempted to sip on a cold winter’s night also contains about 5 mg caffeine. Try substituting for a caffeine-free herbal tea instead.
If you’re reading this during an afternoon slump and wondering how you’ll make it through the next hours without caffeine, Thomas suggests getting up and moving. “When I’m feeling tired or stuck, the best thing I can do for mental clarity and to refresh my body is to get up and move around,” she suggests. Set your Fitbit reminder to nudge you to get moving every hour and feed your device some steps!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.