The food we put in our bodies during waking hours can have a direct impact on how well we sleep at night. If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep issues, stock your fridge with sleep-inducing foods that naturally calm the nervous system.
Can’t sleep? Pour yourself a glass of milk. Sounds like an old wives’ tale, doesn’t it? While the jury is still out on the benefits of warm milk before bedtime, there are plenty of foods that have been proven to help you fall asleep faster and slumber more soundly.
Getting the recommended 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night involves a variety of factors. But for a simple (and tasty) way to improve your sleep hygiene practices, consider snacking on these sleep foods before calling it a night.
Foods for Sleep: What to Nosh on at Night
Lean ProteinsAccording to the Cleveland Clinic, chicken and turkey may help us fall asleep because they have high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that increases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Also, because protein can induce sleepiness, research suggests that eating moderate amounts of it is associated with improved sleep quality.
Fatty FishSalmon, tuna, and other fatty fish are a good choice for nighttime fare because they’re rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and promote heart and brain health, while vitamin D stimulates the production of serotonin, a sleep-boosting chemical in the brain.
In one study that followed a group of men who ate fatty fish three times a week for several months, researchers concluded that regular consumption of omega-3s improved the subjects’ sleep quality, helped them fall asleep more quickly, and positively affected daytime performance.
DairyThe American Sleep Association notes that dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and low-fat cheese may help with sleep because they’re high in calcium. This is important because calcium helps the body process melatonin and tryptophan. When combined with melatonin supplements and exercise, milk has even been proven to improve sleep in the elderly.
NutsRich in nutrients, nuts also contain melatonin. In fact, walnuts are one of the best food sources of this sleep-inducing hormone, making them a near-perfect bedtime snack. Walnuts also contain healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid, which may help improve sleep by promoting the production of serotonin.
Almonds are an excellent source of magnesium, with just one ounce providing 19% of the adult daily requirement. Because research suggests magnesium may improve our quality of sleep by easing inflammation and reducing cortisol, grabbing a handful of almonds after dinner might help those eyelids get heavy at bedtime.
FruitsThe National Sleep Foundation recommends eating fruits rich in melatonin to fall asleep faster and wake up less often at night. Good choices include whole tart cherries, tart cherry juice, raspberries, bananas, oranges, and pineapple. Bananas also contain healthy amounts of magnesium and potassium, two essential minerals that help prevent wakefulness during the night.
For chronic insomnia, try kiwifruit. In a four-week study, adults who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime fell asleep 42% more quickly than they would have if they’d eaten nothing. By the end of the study, the kiwi consumers also experienced improvements in their ability to sleep through the night.
Whole-Grain FoodsFor optimal sleep, it’s wise to limit foods made with refined flour because highly processed products can impair sleep by reducing serotonin levels. Instead, choose foods containing whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, and whole-wheat crackers. Whole grains encourage insulin production, which stimulates tryptophan activity in the brain.
Sleep-Wrecking Foods to AvoidWhile several of these foods are otherwise perfectly healthy choices, it’s best to avoid eating them later in the day due to their potentially snooze-sabotaging side effects:
- Black beans: gas pains can make sleeping uncomfortable
- Chips: fried foods can bring on bloating, reflux, and heartburn
- Dark chocolate: despite its host of health benefits, the caffeine can keep you up
- Grapefruit: acidity can lead to heartburn
- Pizza: fatty foods take longer to digest
- Tomatoes: indigestion sufferers will have a hard time stomaching the high acidity
- Watermelon: high water content may lead to overnight bathroom trips
In short, be mindful of what you eat before bedtime. Grab a slice of turkey or dish up yogurt and cherries—either of those light and healthy evening snacks may trigger a sleep-inducing hormonal response and help calm the nervous system. As tempting as it may sometimes be to take a late-night dive into that bag of greasy chips, it’s not worth wrecking a night of restorative shut-eye. After all, nothing tastes as good as sleeping feels.