But if you still find yourself counting sheep (or worse, reaching for a bottle of sleeping pills) on the regular, it may be time to change up your pre-bed snack routine, as there are so many foods that help you sleep. "The foods you eat have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep," says Jason Wrobel, a vegan chef with his own TV show on The Cooking Channel. In his just-released first cookbook, Eaternity, he devotes an entire chapter to foods that help you sleep.
The need is pretty apparent to anyone with a functioning Keurig. "People are generally very overstimulated in our society," he notes, pointing to caffeine as a key culprit. Refilling your coffee cup over and over again throws off your adrenal glands, affecting the adrenal and nervous systems—and causing feelings of stress, anxiety, or the jitters. As in, the things that keep us lying awake in bed at night, or tossing and turning until the alarm goes off.
And this overstimulation doesn't come without a cost—your body needs some snooze time to help it hit the refresh button. Working late and then waking up early to hit up power yoga may seem feasible for a little while, "but in the long run, you're going to compromise your energy, memory, well-being, and longevity," Wrobel warns. He recommends weaning yourself off of these stimulants throughout the day—especially caffeine—and getting your energy from more sustainable food sources at every meal.
When it comes to the foods that help you sleep, we looked to nutrition pros for counsel: registered dietitians. On a recent episode of You Versus Food, host and dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, told us that there's absolutely a healthy way to choose what to eat before bed so you go to sleep feeling both satisfied and poised to get the highest-quality deep sleep.
Watch the full video on eating before bed here:
Is it bad to eat late at night?
First, a note on timing. "A question I get asked a lot is, 'Is it bad to eat late at night?' Well, today we'll dive into this quandary and I'll give you some tips about what to eat if you do opt for a pre-slumber snack," says Beckerman at the top of the episode. According to Beckerman, the answer is that it's totally fine to eat late at night, it's just about figuring out the right foods, portion, and timing. "The right kind of snack may actually act as a sleeping potion of sorts that lulls you softly into your dream world." That being said, she says that a larger pre-sleep snack may upset your stomach, disrupt your sleeping patterns (or circadian rhythm), and even minimize the quality of rest you get from your eight hours. Instead, she recommends keeping it relatively small and protein-packed. "If you can incorporate protein, it can help repair and rebuild muscles in need of a tune-up thanks to the release of human growth hormone while you snooze," adds Beckerman.
Not sure what to stock up on to maximize the quality of your time under the covers? Here, Beckerman, Wrobel, and a number of other dietitians picked their favorite sleep-enhancing foods based on key nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and tryptophan—which all play key roles in serious shut-eye. In an age of overachieving, it's about time we all aim to be successful snoozers, too.
Keep reading for the 10 foods that help you sleep faster, longer, and deeper.
"Almonds are high in potassium and B vitamins, which help our nervous systems to relax," says Wrobel. And remember that protein mention above? They're packed with the healthy nutrient. "With six grams of protein per ounce, almonds are one of the nuts with the highest protein per ounce,” Caroline West Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, previously told Well+Good. And combined with the fiber, that protein will help you stay full, satisfied, and snooze-ready long after you're done snacking.
2. Bananas and peanut butter
Bananas, like almonds, are packed with B complex vitamins and potassium, making them one of Beckerman's favorite pre-bed snacks. "Bananas are high in potassium and magnesium, which can help your muscles relax. Eating carbohydrates with a banana with tryptophan, found in nut butter, can make the amino acids more available to the brain, and may increase your ability to sleep—so this snack is a sleep-aid wonder," says Beckerman. Yet another reason why these two ingredients are literally a dream team.
3. Greek yogurt
If you want to keep things super simple before you call it a night, plain Greek yogurt is going to hit the spot. "Plain Greek yogurt is filled with many properties that can positively impact your sleep. For starters, it's a high-protein food that's low in sugar and filled with probiotics. The protein will help keep you full at night and probiotics can help improve sleep quality," says Beckerman.
4. Brown rice
Brown rice is great for sleeping because it contains GABA—aka gamma-amino butyric acid—which calms the nervous system. Brown rice is also loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid that helps get the brain in a relaxed state.
Tart cherry juice intake has also been associated with improved sleep duration and sleep quality in healthy adults, and same goes for fresh cherries. Why? This fruit is rich in melatonin, says Kelly Jones, RD, "and melatonin is critical for healthy sleep-wake cycles." While many turn to melatonin or magnesium supplements for more ZZZs, tart cherry juice may be a more natural alternative, she explains.
One reason why Beckerman loves this legume is because it's a low-glycemic index food. "That means that the combo of fiber and protein helps slow carb absorption and maintain healthy blood sugar levels," she says. By promoting even blood sugar levels (instead of spikes and crashes) throughout the night, these types of foods can help maintain restful sleep patterns. Chickpeas also boast vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin.
Need some more convincing to pile your plate with kale? "Magnesium deficiency is a major cause of insomnia," says Wrobel, adding that many Americans don't get enough magnesium. Good thing this dark, leafy green is packed with the mineral. Yet another reason to throw some kale in to your daily smoothie.
Sure, it's a breakfast staple—but oatmeal will help you get your snooze on, too. Oats aid the body in releasing sleep hormones (think melatonin, yet again).
"Walnuts are a great source of tryptophan, which is a sleep-enhancing amino acid," explains Wrobel. In the brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which induces sleep. Walnuts also pack a significant punch of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to increased cardiovascular health, improved cognitive function, decreased symptoms of depression, and overall reduced inflammation. Pop a few after dinner to get the body snooze-ready.
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