How Your Summer BBQ Menu Could be Destroying Your Sleep

Summer brings all good things -- sun, sand, and great eats! What’s better than firing up the grill, having a few beers, and then finishing it off with your favorite ice cream? While it's well-known that alcohol intake can drastically affect your sleep, the effect of eating red meat and sweets on sleep disruption is less recognized. Read on to learn more.


How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

It’s a fact that alcohol causes drowsiness with 20 percent of Americans reporting using alcohol to help them fall asleep (Source: National Sleep Foundation).

You may fall asleep quickly after drinking, but it’s common to wake up in the middle of the night. Studies show that alcohol may affect the normal production of chemicals in the body that trigger sleepiness when you’ve been awake for a substantial amount of time, and subside once you’ve had enough sleep.

After drinking, the production of adenosine, a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain increases, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. It subsides as quickly as it comes, making you more likely to wake up before you’re rested.

Another reason people get lower quality sleep following alcohol consumption is that it blocks REM sleep, the most restorative type of sleep. With less REM sleep, you are likely to wake up feeling groggy.

Alcohol also causes your whole body to relax, including the muscles of your throat. And that makes you more prone to snoring.

Red Meat & Sleep

Red meat contains tyrosine, which stimulates the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that counteracts the hormones produced during restorative sleep. Additionally, the high protein content of red meat slows digestion and may make it difficult to sleep as your body is working to break down the protein while you are trying to fall asleep. High-protein diets have also been linked to sleep apnea (Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders).

Red meat is high in iron and zinc, both of which are necessary in a healthy diet, so try eating red meat earlier in the day to derive its nutritional benefits without sacrificing your sleep quality.

Icecream and Sleep

Ice Cream & Sleep

While sweet and refreshing on a summer evening, ice cream is loaded with fat. Indulging in high-fat dairy foods could interfere with your sleep, according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Low-fiber, high-fat, and high-sugar diets were found to be associated with sleep arousal.

Also, if you consume ice cream and do not give your body a proper chance to burn it off before bed via light exercise, all of the sugar will fill you with energy right before you hit the hay. You’re sending your body mixed messages! Consider a non-dairy yogurt or fruit-based dessert instead. Summer is the perfect time for fresh fruit crisps and sorbets.

7 tips for a Healthy Summer BBQ


  1. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables: Since you can grill almost anything, it’s great to experiment with grilled fruits and vegetables to see how they turn out. A few to try include asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, corn, peaches, plums and watermelon. A smoothie station is another fun and healthy way to incorporate fruit into your event.

  2. Choose whole grains: If you’re serving burgers, hotdogs and such, buy whole grain wheat buns. For your pasta salad, try whole wheat pasta. Experiment with making whole grain-based salads using quinoa, farrow, barley or whole wheat couscous. You can substitute those grains in your typical pasta salad recipe.

  3. Be mindful of your meats: Choose leaner meat options like chicken breast, lean ground poultry and fish such as salmon. These types of proteins are lower in saturated fat than red meat and fish contain healthy fats that are good for both brain and heart health. If you just can’t skip red meat, opt for leaner cuts like sirloin or tenderloin, or 98% lean ground beef. Trim any fat and marbling you see before grilling. Skip the processed red meats like brats, hot dogs and sausage, which are often packed with sodium and saturated fat.

  4. Master your grilling technique: As we all know, grilling is a wonderful way to add flavor to our foods, but the blackened, charred pieces may contain cancer promoting compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic amines (PAH). HCAs form when proteins cook at higher temperatures and PAHs form when meat juices drip onto hot surfaces like charcoal and create smoke. As the smoke wafts around food, its carcinogens can stick to the food.

  5. Avoid store-bought marinades & salads: Store-bought marinades and salads typically have more fat, sodium and sugar, so try to make them on your own. For oils, use canola or safflower or a blend of both. Swap them in for recipes that call for olive oil. These oils have a higher smoke point than olive oil, so they can withstand the high heats of grilling without breaking down, oxidizing and producing carcinogens. For coleslaw, potato salad or macaroni salad, use an oil and vinegar base instead of mayonnaise.

  6. Consider plant proteins: The main element of barbecue doesn’t have to be meat. Consider tofu, veggie, or black bean burgers for the grill. Plant proteins make yummy side dishes like baked beans, three-bean salad and faux chicken salad with chickpeas.

  7. Choose water instead of soda and juice: Beverages at the barbecue can make calories add up pretty quickly especially with all the sugar. Drink water instead of lemonade, sweetened iced tea and soft drinks. To spice up your H2O, consider adding herbs, sliced sliced fruit such as oranges, peaches, lemon or pineapple. If you need a bubbly taste, try seltzer or sparkling water.

You don’t have to cut your favorite foods from the traditional BBQ menu to make it a healthier affair. Whether you’re the host or a guest, consider trying some of the above tips to kick up the health factor at your next cookout and sleep your way to a happy, healthy summer.