Is there such a thing as foods that will help us go to sleep at night? It turns out, there is. While these foods won’t always knock you out in the way that a prescription sleeping pill might, they will help your body produce the right hormones, relax, and make you likelier to fall asleep — all with no foreign chemicals or side effects!
Before we get to the foods, let’s talk about a few related things.
First, you want to make sure that you are not going to bed hungry. A hungry stomach will easily cause you to wake up, even once you’ve nodded off.
Second, you don’t want to eat too much before you go to sleep, as the digestive process may keep you from sleeping soundly. You want to avoid high-fat foods, as these are harder for the stomach to digest.
Third, you want to avoid spicy or acidic foods in the last hours that you’re awake, as these foods can give you stomach upset even once you go to sleep, which can cause you to wake up.
Fourth, you want to avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoons or at night, as the effects of this powerful stimulant may still be felt by your brain many hours later.
Fifth, avoid alcohol in the last few hours before you go to sleep. It’s true that alcohol helps us fall asleep; but it’s equally true that alcohol disrupts our nervous systems. As such, it will make it likelier that you’ll awaken from your sleep, and it will prevent you from going into the more restful stages of the sleep cycle, which in part explains why you feel as awful as you do on the day that follows a night of drinking.
Sixth, avoid drinking too much fluid of any kind before you go to sleep, or you’ll be waking up to use the bathroom.
Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s look at foods that tend to promote good sleep.
You’ll want to eat protein-rich foods, which will satisfy your stomach for longer periods. Four categories of these foods are especially good: most fish, particularly salmon, tuna and halibut; dairy products; whole grains; nuts and seeds.
Fish are good because they’re excellent sources of lean protein, and because they’re rich in vitamin B6 — a vitamin that the body needs to make melatonin, a natural, sleep-inducing hormone.
While on the subject of vitamin B6 — bananas are another great source of it. They’re also rich in potassium and magnesium, two important nutrients that help to regulate muscles and nerves while you’re awake and while you sleep.
Dairy products are helpful for inducing sleep because they contain a natural amino acid called tryptophan, which the brain uses to make melatonin and serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Melatonin and serotonin both help to relax us, and they help regulate sleep cycles. Warm milk is particularly beneficial because the warm temperature causes the tryptophan to be absorbed faster.
One study by MIT in 2003 found that protein decreases the ability of tryptophan in the blood to enter the brain; carbohydrates, on the other hand, stimulate the release of insulin, which in turn aids in the transport of blood tryptophan to the brain. Being that dairy products are rich not only in protein, but also in carbohydrates, a warm glass of milk may just be an insomniac’s best friend.
A glass of warm milk and a banana … and you could soon find yourself drifting off to sleep …
Another food that has tryptophan is turkey. A turkey burger with cheese, topped with the vegetables of your choice, makes a healthy, sleep-inducing meal at the end of the day!
Whole grains help the body produce serotonin. Whole-grain crackers and cheese, then, would make another great bed-time snack. Oats are high in magnesium; oatmeal with warm milk will have you out in no time.
Melatonin-rich tart cherry juice has been found by some to aid in sleeping. A glass of tart cherry juice … some whole-grain crackers and cheese — better yet!
Some nuts and seeds are great to eat with fruit juice or warm milk at night. Almonds are rich in magnesium and tryptophan. Have a handful with tart cherry juice, or sweetened almonds with a warm glass of milk. Sunflower seeds are high in tryptophan and magnesium. Eat a handful with tart cherry juice or warm milk, and you’ll soon be getting your z’s.
With respect to dairy, these foods are also rich in calcium — another nutrient that may help you snooze; some research suggests that a calcium deficiency may interfere with a person’s ability to fall asleep. Other foods rich in calcium: egg whites; green, leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, spinach, etc.); and some fish, including salmon and sardines.