The everyday foods that keep you up at night

food that keep you up
food that keep you up

With a reported 50 per cent of older adults suffering from insomnia, we’re not so much Generation X as Generation Exhausted. And surprisingly, younger people have it even worse, with just 39 per cent of millennials saying they get enough shut-eye. Screens, stress, alcohol and caffeine are all factors of course, but what we eat can also have an enormous impact on the quality of our sleep.

According to a new observational study from Sorbonne Paris Nord University, UPFs (ultra-processed foods) may be to blame. Researchers found a link between chronic insomnia and the consumption of UPFs such as ready meals, fizzy drinks and energy bars, and the effect was even more pronounced in men.

With this in mind, here are five practical food swaps you can make to ensure a more peaceful night’s sleep.

Swap shop-bought cereal for homemade muesli


Around 28 per cent of British people start the day with a bowl of cereal, so breakfast time is a good place to start unpicking our UPF eating habits. Yes, it’s easy to grab the box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, slosh in the milk and head out the door, but you’ll also be ingesting 11g of sugar per 30g serving which is 12 per cent of the maximum reference intake (RI) of 90g of sugar per day. An easy alternative is high fibre, homemade muesli.

  1. Combine 500g rolled oats, 50g chopped nuts, 50g mixed seeds, and 50g raisins and store in an airtight container.

  2. In the morning, place a 50g serving in a bowl with your milk of choice.

  3. Top with 1 tbsp Greek yogurt, 1tsp nut butter, and a handful of berries for added healthy fats and antioxidants.

Swap ready meals for a ‘healthy assembly’


Ready meals have come in for criticism for being high in fat, sugar and salt. Even though healthier ones are hitting the shelves these days, you’re playing ultra-processed roulette unless you‘re adept at deciphering food labels. But what should you eat when you really can’t be bothered to cook? A “healthy assembly” is the answer, a collection of fridge items you can plonk on a plate for a quick, healthy meal.

Add these items to your weekly shopping list and you’ll always have the wherewithal for a healthy assembly:

  • Protein – smoked fish, (salmon, trout, mackerel), pre-cooked chicken or prawns, eggs (hard-boil a few and keep them in the fridge), cheese, hummus

  • Healthy fats – olives, avocado, nuts

  • Complex carbohydrates – spinach leaves, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, wholegrain crackers or wholegrain bread

  • Gut-healthy foods – fermented vegetables such as kimchi or sauerkraut

Swap energy bars for home-baked oat bars


Shop-bought energy bars may boast health benefits, but many are very high in sugar and contain UPF additives. Instead, make a batch of these baked cranberry and orange oat bars to have on hand when you need an energy boost.

  1. Place 2 very ripe medium-sized bananas in a 20cm x 20cm greased baking dish and mash well with a fork.

  2. Add 200g rolled oats, 50g ground almonds (or plain flour), 50g chopped nuts of choice, 75g dried cranberries, 25g mixed seeds, 1tsp cinnamon, 1tsp baking powder, the juice and zest of an orange, 2tbsp maple syrup and 300ml milk.

  3. Mix everything well with a spatula and disperse evenly in the tin.

  4. Bake at 180C fan for 40 minutes. Cut into 9 bars. Will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Swap your fizzy drinks for kombucha


There’s something about the cold intense fizz you get from a can of pop that just hits the spot, but most fizzy drinks are packed with sugar, and often caffeine, which will put the kibosh on a decent night’s sleep. Kombucha is the perfect sparkling alternative that also delivers gut health benefits thanks to the live bacteria it contains.

Many kombuchas are available in supermarkets now but why not buy a kombucha kit (which includes the “scoby” or bacterial culture used to kick-start the ferment), and make your own? You simply dissolve sugar in water, add tea bags for flavour, and allow to cool before straining into a glass jar, adding the culture and leaving to ferment for 1-2 weeks. The bacteria use the sugar as food during the fermentation process so there’s very little left in the final drink.

Swap chocolate digestives for dark chocolate dipped peanut butter dates


So far so good; we’ve had a UPF-free breakfast, a healthy lunch assembly, a homemade energy bar to keep us going, and gut-friendly kombucha for hydration. But what to do when the sugar cravings hit? Before you reach for a couple of chocolate digestives, these dark chocolate-dipped peanut butter dates are a healthier way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

  1. Simply take a packet of Medjool dates, pit them and fill each cavity with a tsp of good-quality peanut butter, and dip each one in some melted dark chocolate (70 per cent plus cocoa solids).

  2. For speed, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave – do this in 20-second bursts and stir well in between until fully melted.

  3. Place the dates carefully in a Tupperware and keep them in the fridge for when you need something sweet.