So how do you hack your diet to work to your advantage? Enter: foods that make you sleepy. By simply incorporating more sleep-promoting foods into your diet, and less of the ones that disrupt your sleep (hello, caffeine) or make you crash at the most opportune times (we’re looking at you, sugar), you can literally eat your way to a better night’s sleep. A pretty delicious remedy, right?
Here, registered dietitian and Verywell Health general manager Rachel Berman, RD, and Serena Poon, celebrity chef, nutritionist, and reiki master, give the low-down on common foods that can help you sleep better at night and which ones are actually keeping you up and interfering with your sleep.
So, what foods can help you drift off to Dreamland? According to Berman, foods and drinks with tryptophan could do the trick. "Tryptophan is an amino acid which is known to boost feel good and sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin," she says. Though she notes that the jury is still out on the exact amount of tryptophan it takes to affect sleep, a connection has been well established.
Turkey, salmon, eggs, tofu, lentils, and spinach all are sources of tryptophan, so incorporating these foods into your dinner could lead to a better night's sleep. "A warm glass of milk can be soothing and help you get into the mood for sleep," Berman adds; it's another source of the amino acid.
As for dessert, yogurt (another source of tryptophan) with almonds and banana or cherries is a good way to go. Almonds and bananas are both good sources of potassium and B vitamins, which help the nervous system relax. And cherries help the body release melatonin, aka the sleep hormone.
Vitamin D-rich foods
Eating foods rich in vitamin D, like mushrooms and eggs, can also set the groundwork for better slumber, since a vitamin D deficiency is linked to poor sleep. “Eating healthy, vitamin D-rich foods may help you to lower your risk of vitamin D inadequacy or deficiency, and lower your risk of poor sleep and risk for other diseases,” Courtney Bancroft, PsyD, previously told Well+Good.
And foods rich in magnesium, like almonds, bananas, and peanut butter, can support your body's natural melatonin production.
10 Foods and Drinks That Make You Sleepy Before Bed
1. Chamomile tea
Drinking chamomile tea is known to have a calming effect, which is why Poon says it’s one of the best drinks for sleep to wind down and relax the body in the evening. And, it has additional benefits, too: “Chamomile also supplies numerous other benefits such as antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
2. Holy basil
Another tea option to try during your bedtime ritual is one made with dried holy basil, also known as tulsi, a herb often used in Ayurvedic therapies. “Holy basil has been shown to protect the body from stress, lower blood pressure, and have antimicrobial properties,” Poon says.
While there are many melatonin supplements available, Poon recommends adding more real foods that naturally boost the hormone, such as pistachios. “Studies show that food sources of melatonin can support improved sleep quality,” she says.
4. Tart cherries
Tart cherries also help the body release melatonin and support your natural circadian rhythm. “Tart cherries also contain serotonin, tryptophan, and are powerful antioxidants,” Poon says. “Research shows that tart cherries before bed can improve sleep time and efficiency, decrease inflammation, and may help combat insomnia.”
5. Goji berries
Goji berries, too, are a great source of melatonin, and they are “high in antioxidants, which support health, vitality, and longevity,” Poon says. The best part: they’re fun to eat. Have them as a snack on their own, as a yogurt or oatmeal topping, or even brew them as a tea.
In addition to being delicious, fan-favorite avocados are also rich in magnesium, which helps promote better sleep. “Avocados are also a good source of unsaturated fat that supports serotonin production, which also supports quality sleep,” Poon says.
Walnuts have many benefits. They’re a great source of melatonin, tryptophan, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats, Poon says. And, “walnuts have also been shown to help decrease blood pressure,” she adds.
8. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan and magnesium, making them an all-around great sleep-friendly food. Pro tip: Poon recommends roasting fresh pumpkin seeds with avocado oil, Himalayan pink salt, and other herbs and spices and having as an evening or movie snack.
“Ashwagandha is a root that has been shown to improve sleep quality and ability to fall asleep,” Poon says. There are many ways to consume ashwagandha, but her favorite is via a warm latte made with homemade nut milk and other herbs. And, Poon points out that the latte also gets bonus points because nut milk provides magnesium and tryptophan, making it a soothing pre-sleep drink.
No, that wasn’t a typo. According to Poon, one of the best foods to eat before bedtime is no food at all. “Researchers have found that eating within an hour of bedtime increases waking after sleep,” she says. “The closer to bedtime you eat, the more likely it is that you will experience a sleep disturbance.” She adds that the sweet spot is to eat about three to four hours before bedtime.
Foods that make you sleepy during the day
Not being able to keep your eyes open when you're at work is the worst. Getting everything done on your to-do list can be challenging even when energy is on your side, but when it's working against you? Woof. If you had a sugary granola bar or bagel for breakfast, you could find yourself wanting to take a nap a few hours later. Eating lots of foods high in simple carbs (like white bread and pasta) can make you sleepy too because they can cause a spike in blood sugar, and what comes up must come down, typically in a dreaded crash.
Instead, go for food sources with protein and healthy fats, which will keep blood sugar levels steady during the day. Salmon, turkey, eggs, nuts, and non-starchy veggies are all ideas of what to eat during the day that won't cause your eyelids to get droopy later.
Common Foods Disrupting Sleep at Night
Have trouble sleeping on a regular basis or constantly wake up hungry? There are three main culprits that may be to blame: caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol.
Berman says the first factor to consider is your caffeine intake. "This may be very obvious, but it has to be said!" she says. "If you're drinking coffee, matcha, or other caffeinated teas, sodas, or energy drinks in the afternoon or early evening, it could be disrupting your sleep at night." Her advice is to stick with decaffeinated drinks after noon.
Berman also says your dessert choice could be keeping you up. "Chocolate has small amounts of caffeine, which could disrupt sleep if eaten right before bed," she says. Berman also says to keep an eye out for hidden sources of caffeine in your day-to-day life, such as migraine medications or cold medicines.
Aside from foods and drinks with caffeine, Berman says alcohol can also lead to interrupted sleep. "Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster but it can also disrupt REM sleep, which is the most restorative," Berman says. "Therefore, if you drink too much, you’ll have a poor quality of sleep and likely wake up in the middle of the night." Her advice is to stick with one standard drink (12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. spirits), which shouldn't disrupt your sleep cycle. (Sleep expert Shelby Harris, PsyD, previously shared with Well+Good that she stops drinking within three hours of her desired bedtime.)
Of course there's more than food at play that factor into how well you sleep. Stress, electronic use, and having an untraditional work schedule can all play a role into disrupting sleep. But taking control of your diet by incorporating more sleep-promoting foods and cutting back on the ones that disrupt your sleep or leave you in need of a midday nap is one major step forward you can take. Now if only you could get your partner to stop snoring...
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