To see which types of produce are best to promote better shuteye and why, we asked Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition in New York City for her expert insights about fruits for better sleep.
But first, some necessary mythbusting about eating fruit at night
Before we dig in, let’s first get one thing out of the way: the diet culture mainstay that eating fruit at night is “bad.” Shapiro reiterates that this is, in fact, a major myth. “Fruit is a whole food and a great source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” she begins. “Say it with me: Eating fruit at night is not bad.” However, Shapiro does note that eating too much of it can potentially disrupt your sleep if it causes indigestion, gas, or a stomach ache—in part due to all of the fiber fruit offers. Though if you’re mindful of your serving sizes (starting with one serving and seeing how your tummy fares), you should be good to go to enjoy a post-dinner healthy treat.
5 RD-approved fruits for better sleep
1. Tart cherries
To start, tart cherries (whether enjoyed as a whole fruit, juice, concentrate, or infused in water) are routinely recommended as a food-first sleep aid. “Tart cherries are believed to help with insomnia due to the nutrients they contain, including potassium and the hormone melatonin,” Shapiro says. “Both of these help to relax muscles and promote quicker, deeper sleep.”
In fact, in a small randomized, double-blind study, participants who consumed tart cherry juice over the course of a week exhibited “significantly elevated” levels of total melatonin content compared to the placebo group; the former group also enjoyed significant increases in total sleep time and sleep efficiency. In other words, tart cherries are the sleep-friendly fruits you definitely shouldn’t (pun alert) snooze on if you’re hoping to improve your shuteye thorough diet. Shapiro suggests sipping on tart cherry juice, as “you would have to eat about 25 tart cherries, which may be hard to find,” to enjoy their sleep-promoting benefits.
This tropical treat also gets the green light on Shapiro’s list of sleep-friendly fruits for two key reasons. First, she mentions that pineapples actually contain more melatonin than cherries—and research backs up their ability to significantly boost levels of this sleep hormone in the body.
Per a 2013 clinical crossover study in healthy volunteers, researchers found that those who ate pineapple had a 266 percent increase in melatonin levels, which exceeded that of five other fruits (including the next two on this list). “Pineapples also help with digestion which can prevent stomach aches at night,” Shapiro adds. This benefit is largely credited to bromelain, a key enzyme in pineapples that can assist with constipation, IBD, and other forms of inflammation.
“Bananas—ideally, when they’re not too ripe—are another great snack to have before bed since they are a great source of potassium, which may help to relax your muscles,” Shapiro continues. “They also contain serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin and may help you to fall and stay asleep.” Bananas are also a sleep-friendly fruit since they contain tryptophan—the same amino acid in turkey that makes us sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner—which itself boosts serotonin production and thus melatonin, as well.
Moreover, Shapiro suggests prioritizing bananas in your diet since they’re “a great source of resistant starch, which will help promote healthy bacteria in the body and will be digested slowly so as not to spike blood sugar.”
Perhaps surprisingly, oranges are RD-approved to eat both upon waking up and before hitting the hay. Of course, they’re an excellent source of immunity-supporting vitamin C, yet Shapiro shares that they also help to increase melatonin in the body. In addition, they “contain B vitamins, which help to manage stress, and also aid in the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA—all of which help to promote sleep,” she continues.
Last but not least, kiwis are a tried-and-true fruit that can enhance your sleep quality—especially if you routinely struggle to get a good night’s rest. In one small study, adult participants with sleep problems ate two kiwis an hour before bedtime every night for four weeks. By the end of the study, they enjoyed significant increases in total sleep time and sleep efficiency, as well as significant decreases in waking time after sleep onset and sleep onset latency (aka the time it took to fall asleep). These impressive results “may be due to kiwi’s serotonin levels, which help us relax and fall asleep, or their anti-inflammatory properties which may also help with falling asleep,” Shapiro explains. She continues to say that more research is needed to back up kiwi’s pro-sleep benefits, but they’re still a great fruit to add into your rotation nonetheless.
“Kiwis are a great source of many nutrients including vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, potassium, and trace minerals. They can help with digestion, too,” Shapiro adds. (Hot tip: While it may seem a bit counterintuitive to do so, enjoying kiwis with their peels on—yep, fuzz and all—can triple the fiber content, retain more vitamin C, *and* reduce food waste. Don’t knock it till you try it!)
The bottom line
If you’ve been avoiding eating fruit after the sun goes down, it may be time to switch things up. However, in order for these fruits to truly yield a better night’s rest, Shapiro notes that it’s not a one-and-done kind of deal. “For many of these fruits, it is the buildup of the nutrients that help maintain levels that will assist you in relaxing,” she explains. (Read: Regular consumption is key.) In addition, she shares that pretty large amounts of fruits with melatonin are required to reap their wind-down effects—though again, eating an entire fruit basket on your own will likely lead to digestive distress—which is why their juiced counterparts (or supplements) tend to be popular.
Last but not least, Shapiro recommends eating these fruits at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. And, of course, the standard sleep hygiene tips apply to boost your chances of getting your most restful sleep yet. On the food and drink front, “Avoid eating large meals two to three hours prior to bed, drinking too much liquid before sleep, and limiting alcohol intake,” she advises.
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