To help us better understand what foods can offer sleep-boosting properties as well as what cooling snacks to opt for that include them, we spoke with a registered dietitian for the details and her recommended bedtime snacks.
What foods and nutrients can help with sleep?
Probably one of the most common hormones associated with improved sleep is melatonin—a hormone that is released by the pineal gland at night and controls the sleep and wake cycle. “Cherries are one of the few food sources of melatonin [that] can support sleep if incorporated into your nighttime snack,” says Chelsea Stegman, MS, RD, LD, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and owner of Chelsea Stegman Nutrition, LLC. The body makes melatonin naturally and often doesn’t require additional supplementation to meet general needs, but having snacks that contain melatonin may help promote sleep.
Stegman says that tryptophan, which is a serotonin-supportive amino acid that can help your body make melatonin and serotonin, can also aid in a better night’s sleep. Studies have shown that increasing tryptophan-rich foods can help improve sleep due to the increased production of melatonin. “The top sources of tryptophan include full fat Greek yogurt, bananas, pumpkin seeds, salmon, avocado, sweet potato, hummus, and poultry,” says Stegman.
Magnesium is a mineral that can help improve sleep, especially in warmer months. According to Stegman, “magnesium can help the body relax, which is necessary for appropriate sleep.” While melatonin can help you sleep faster, magnesium can help reduce stress and sleep for longer periods of time—which is essential during the warmer nights. The top sources of magnesium can include dark green leafy vegetables, avocado, dark chocolate, nuts, beans and chickpeas.
However, Stegman also points out that all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) can also help with sleep by supporting blood sugar balance all night long, amongst other benefits that support your brain and neurotransmitters during sleep. Additionally, spices such as turmeric and foods high in antioxidants can reduce inflammation, thus helping your body get into the proper rest and digest state for sleep. With all of this in mind, let’s get into some snack options you can explore that are both cooling and include the ingredients covered so far.
6 RD-recommended cooling bedtime snacks that are sleep-boosting
1. Frozen dark chocolate (above 70 percent cacao) and pumpkin seed bark
The best snacks are often the easiest to make. If you’re looking for a bedtime snack that requires little prep, then you can purchase dark chocolate that’s made with over 70 percent cacao and pumpkin seeds to make chocolate bark. “The dark chocolate contains magnesium, [while the] pumpkin seeds contain magnesium and tryptophan,” Stegman says. You simply melt the chocolate, spread it on a baking sheet, and top with pumpkin seeds to freeze in the fridge for one to three hours.
2. Chocolate and cherry pudding
You can never go wrong with a chocolate and cherry combination, which is why this pudding snack idea can serve as both a delicious and cooling bedtime snack. To make it, Stegman says to combine an avocado, cacao powder, frozen cherries, maple syrup, a splash of oat milk, and almond extract in a food processor. After pureeing the ingredients, put the creamy concoction in the fridge for an hour or so, and you’re good to go. “The avocado is a great source of tryptophan and the avocado and cacao are both excellent sources of magnesium, [while] the cherries are great sources of melatonin.” In addition to helping with sleep, this snack is dairy-free, nut-free, and loaded with healthy fats from the avocado.
3. Chocolate protein smoothie
Protein smoothies aren’t only for post workouts—they can also serve as before-bed snacks that can help with sleep. Stegman suggests making a chocolate protein smoothie with chocolate protein powder, frozen banana and cherries, oat milk, and cashew butter. “The protein powder—depending on the brand—and bananas [contain] tryptophan, the cashews contain magnesium, and the cherries contain melatonin,” she says.
4. Frozen yogurt and fruit bark
Similar to chocolate bark, frozen yogurt bark can be a great way to get sleep-boosting nutrients before bed. “This can be made with full fat Greek yogurt, cherries, vanilla, honey, and coconut flakes,” Stegman says. “The full fat Greek yogurt contains tryptophan to help with sleep, and the cherries contain melatonin.”
To make frozen yogurt bark, simply spread the yogurt over a lined baking sheet and top with your preferred ingredients. You may need to leave the baking sheet in the freezer for three or more hours (depending on your refrigerator), but once it’s firm, you can cut it into pieces to have before bed or for a midday snack.
5. Dark chocolate-dipped frozen bananas with a side of almonds
Not only is this snack a great option for days where it’s warmer than usual, but it’s also quick to make with minimal ingredients. All you have to do is melt your favorite dark chocolate, dip the banana slices to cover them with chocolate, put them in the freezer for one hour, and you’re done! (You can also buy delicious pre-made versions from brands like Diana's Bananas, which come in both bite-sized pieces and popsicle-style sticks.) According to Stegman, the banana is a good source of tryptophan, which may help you fall asleep faster and longer, while the dark chocolate and almonds act as a good source of magnesium.
6. Iced golden milk latte
Golden milk is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and to be full of antioxidants from the turmeric, but this iced latte beverage includes other spices that make it a great option before bed. “This is an iced twist on the typical gold milk latte, which contains almond milk, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and vanilla,” says Stegman. “This combination of spices can help you reduce inflammation and relax before bed, thus supporting cooling, restful sleep.” Find a delicious recipe for a golden milk smoothie here.
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