When You Eat Ice Cream Before Bed, This Is What Happens

Who doesn't love a little helping of dessert after a hearty meal? Whether it's a piece of chocolate, a slice of pie, or a crumb-topped cookie, a nighttime sweet treat can help us unwind after a long day.

Ice cream is a favorite among many Americans. In 2020 alone, about 291 million people in the U.S. indulged in both ice cream and sherbet at one point during the course of the year (via Statista). Ice cream is made up of a combination of milk, sugar, and cream, as well as the occasional addition of ingredients such as salt, dry ice, or liquid nitrogen (via The Spruce Eats). Depending on the type of ice cream being consumed, the nutritional value of this creamy treat can vary. For example, standard vanilla ice cream contains 140 calories, 14 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat per every half-cup serving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Given ice cream's nutritional makeup, are there ways in which eating it before bed can affect our sleep? If so, are these effects positive or negative when it comes to quality of rest?

Chocolate toppings can impact sleep

Although delicious, ice cream reduces our ability to fall asleep. As culinary nutritionist Jackie Topol explains to Saatva, the sugar in ice cream acts as a stimulant, making it difficult to relax. "Eating a bowl of ice cream before bed can negatively impact sleep because of its high sugar content," Topol says.

In addition, because some people are sensitive to dairy, eating ice cream before bedtime can potentially lead to a stomach ache, resulting in restless sleep (via Eat This, Not That!). But ice cream itself isn't the only thing standing in the way of sleep. If you're someone who enjoys toppings, it's possible that they may be to blame for what's keeping you up at night. Chocolate toppings, in particular, can be problematic, as chocolate is made up of ingredients including caffeine and theobromine. These keep us awake and alert.

Thankfully, there are ways we can satisfy our sweet tooth that won't impact our sleep cycle, according to Saatva. When the craving strikes, try reaching for a frozen banana. Blending it into smoothie form can help give it that same ice-cream-like texture. Speaking of smoothies, you may also want to give a tart cherry smoothie a try. Not only are they nutritious, but tart cherries contain melatonin, which promotes sleep.