What to eat (and *not* to) to sleep better
We’ve all been there: Settling into bed, closing out the day, looking forward to the peaceful break of a good night’s sleep. And then… nothing happens. You aren’t falling asleep despite your body longing for the sweet release of slumber. What gives? Turns out what we eat throughout our day can have a major impact on the kind of sleep we get and how quickly we sail away to dreamland.
If you're struggling to get shut-eye, try incorporating more of these fatigue-fighting foods:
Spinach: Living up to its “super food” name, spinach contains vitamins B and C, magnesium and a handful of amino acids, all of which help in the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects sleep cycles.
Kale: The high levels of calcium found in kale help combat insomnia and assist the brain in using tryptophan to create melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. Green leafy vegetables will provide you with a healthy dose of calcium, helping to turn the amino acid in your brain into melatonin.
Cherry juice: A natural way to boost levels of melatonin, drinking tart cherry juice has been linked to faster slumber.
Kiwi: Kiwis are rich in serotonin, vitamins C and E and folate, all of which promote restful sleep.
Bananas: Bananas contain magnesium and potassium, which are both natural muscle relaxants and can aid in faster sleep.
Prunes: High levels of vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium in prunes help to create melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
Almonds: The high levels of magnesium found in almonds promote quality sleep, with the added bonus of relaxing muscles.
Walnuts: As wonder nuts, walnuts contain high levels of tryptophan and melatonin, both needed for sound, restful sleep.
Hummus (chickpeas): Tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid, is found in abundance in this versatile little legume. Pair with whole-grains to help guide tryptophan to the brain and you’re on your way to a snooze-fest.
Peanut butter: Best when served with a whole grain, peanut butter’s tryptophan levels combine forces with nutrients in whole grains to main-line the amino acid straight to the dome for a nap-inducing buzz.
Turkey: Tryptophan is the reason for your traditional post-Thanksgiving nap and is found in abundance in this delicious poultry.
Tuna: Tuna has naturally high levels of B6 vitamins, which promote the creation of serotonin and melatonin.
Shrimp: Chow down on shrimp and other crustaceans to promote sleep-boosting serotonin. Bonus points for enjoying shellfish with a side of rice, which will jump-start the sleepy effects.
Cheese: Cheese is loaded with tryptophan. Pair your favorite type with a whole grain carbohydrate and you’re ready for a cozy nap.
Yogurt: Another secret source of tryptophan, the high levels of calcium present in yogurt help guide it to your brain to trigger melatonin production.
How do I choose?
Sleep specialist Gabriel Smith, with Sleep Train, offers a great rule of thumb to harness the natural power of sleep-boosting foods: Pair them with supporting snacks. “Choose a food from the dairy or meat list and enjoy it with a whole grain to get the maximum benefits,” Smith advises.
“That could mean reaching for some cheese and whole-grain crackers instead of a bag of chips, or swapping out your mid-afternoon donut for an apple with some tryptophan-rich peanut butter.”
What should I avoid?
These types of foods hinder a good night’s sleep:
Soda: Your mother was right; guzzling those soda pops does make it harder for you to hit the hay. High sugar content combined with caffeine is a recipe for a jittery night.
Sugar: Foods and treats with a high sugar content cause a spike in your blood sugar followed by a crash. These highs and lows can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Coffee: Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, which means it sticks around long after you’ve drained the last of that late-afternoon skinny vanilla latte.
Dark chocolate: Another source of caffeine, dark chocolate is also loaded with theobromine, an alkaloid that has stimulant and diuretic effects. Basically, a perfect storm of anti-sleeping components.
Rebecca Lewis, a registered dietitian at HelloFresh suggests that eating foods that promote urination close to bedtime may lead to a worse night’s sleep. “Certain fruits and veggies, especially those high in potassium, are natural diuretics. These include foods like citrus fruits and juices such as lemon juice, asparagus, beets, and even cilantro and parsley. Eating these close to bedtime might end up making you wake up in the night running to the bathroom.”
What does it all mean?
Timing is everything. When you eat is just as important as what you eat. It can be tempting to skip meals or go without in an effort to shed some extra weight—but doing so can disrupt your body’s normal sleep patterns. Planning your meals so that you eat the bulk of your daily carbohydrates at night can help you fall asleep faster. High-glycemic carbs, like corn chips or potatoes, consumed a few hours before bed can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep.
Another helpful habit to adopt is limiting liquid consumption during the evening, with an emphasis on tapering off three or four hours prior to lights out. Many of the foods found to impact restful sleep can be safely consumed earlier in the day. It’s just the last four hours before bedtime that are critical, since many of the chemical effects are long lasting.
Do you think what you eat affects your sleep? Share your thoughts below!