8 Best Foods To Help You Sleep

If sleep worries you, check what you eat. Certain foods before bed might help you sleep better.

Good sleep can prevent chronic illnesses, keep your brain sharp, and boost your immune system.

It’s suggested to aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, but many struggle to get enough.

Improving your diet and eating at regular times can aid sleep. Here are 9 foods and drinks to help you sleep better.

Why Specific Foods Can Affect Sleep

Food’s effect on sleep can be attributed to their nutritional components and how they interact with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Sleep-promoting foods contain nutrients or compounds that promote relaxation and make sleep better. Foods like tart cherry juice, kiwi, fatty fish, nuts, and dairy products are rich in melatonin, tryptophan, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to better sleep.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles, while tryptophan is an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is then converted into melatonin.

Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.

On the other hand, certain foods and drinks can disrupt sleep:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks, can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.
  • Alcohol: While alcohol may initially induce drowsiness, it disrupts the sleep cycle and can lead to fragmented sleep patterns.
  • High-fat, spicy, and acidic foods: These can cause discomfort such as heartburn and indigestion, making it difficult to for you to stay asleep.
  • High-sugar and refined carbohydrate foods: The consumption of these foods can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which may disturb sleep.

Foods That Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep

1. Turkey

Turkey is known for its high tryptophan content, which the body uses to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and sleep. Melatonin is converted from serotonin, which helps you sleep. People believe turkey makes them sleepy because of its tryptophan content.

However, turkey might not affect sleep as straight-forwardly as you think. Although turkey does contain tryptophan, it’s not much more than other protein sources. Moreover, tryptophan’s ability to promote sleep is affected by many things, including what else you eat. For example, tryptophan needs carbohydrates to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect serotonin levels.

Despite the complexity, some research supports tryptophan from turkey’s sleep-improving powers. According to a study, L-tryptophan doses of 1 gram or more can increase subjective sleepiness and decrease sleep latency.

2. Almonds

Almonds are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that plays a crucial role in supporting sleep quality. Magnesium has been shown to improve sleep by helping to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone that can be a significant barrier to rest. A one-ounce serving of almonds contains 75 mg of magnesium, which is about 19% of the recommended daily allowance. This nutrient helps the body to relax and may improve the quality of sleep, particularly for those who have insomnia.

Research supports the sleep-promoting benefits of almonds. A study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that magnesium supplementation improved insomnia symptoms, suggesting that magnesium-rich foods like almonds could have a similar effect.

Moreover, almonds contain high doses of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, further contributing to their sleep-promoting properties.

3. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and vitamin D, nutrients that are essential for maintaining good health and have been shown to play a significant role in sleep regulation. The omega-3 fatty acids help in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s crucial for sleep and mood regulation. 

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consumption of fatty fish improved sleep parameters such as sleep latency, sleep efficiency, and total sleep time among forensic patients in a secure treatment facility. This study shows that fatty fish consumption could enhance daily functioning and maintain vitamin D status during winter, a time when vitamin D levels typically decrease.

4. Kiwi

Kiwi is a fruit known for its high antioxidant content, including vitamins C and E, and serotonin. The presence of serotonin in kiwi may help in regulating sleep patterns. The antioxidants can help reduce inflammation, which is often linked to better sleep quality.

A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming kiwi before bedtime resulted in significant improvements in both sleep onset, duration, and quality. Participants who ate kiwi one hour before bedtime reported falling asleep more quickly and sleeping more soundly throughout the night.

The high concentration of antioxidants and serotonin in kiwi is believed to contribute to these effects by potentially interacting with melatonin, the hormone directly involved in sleep cycle regulation.

5. Malted Milk

Malted milk is a beverage made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk. It is known to help promote sleep due to its nutrient composition, which includes vitamin B, iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus. These minerals play a role in relaxation and can help improve sleep quality.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 1972 found that a hot, bedtime, milk-cereal drink (like Horlicks, which is a type of malted milk) was associated with improved sleep. Participants experienced less restlessness and longer sleep duration compared to those who did not consume the drink. This suggests that malted milk can be beneficial for those struggling to achieve uninterrupted and restful sleep.

6. Rice

Rice, particularly varieties with a high glycemic index (GI), has been shown to aid in improving sleep quality. The mechanism behind this involves the body’s metabolic response to high GI foods, which leads to a spike in blood sugar levels and subsequent insulin release.

This increase in insulin helps transport tryptophan, an essential amino acid, into the brain. Tryptophan is then converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation, and eventually into melatonin, which regulates sleep cycles.

Research from Japan shows that people who consumed higher amounts of rice reported better sleep quality. This was attributed to the high GI of rice, which facilitates the aforementioned process involving tryptophan.

Another clinical trial in 2019 found that rice bran extract supplementation significantly improved sleep onset and maintenance in adults with sleep disturbances. This was measured using polysomnography, a comprehensive recording of the biophysiological changes that occur during sleep.

7. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is a popular herbal remedy often used for its calming effects, which may help improve sleep quality. The active compound in chamomile, apigenin, binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, which may exert a mild tranquilizing effect.

A study published in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies reported that chamomile extract significantly decreased sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and improved overall sleep quality among participants with chronic insomnia.

Another study noted that chamomile tea might help people relax and fall asleep more easily, although it emphasized the need for more research to confirm these effects.

Despite these findings, the evidence is mixed, and some studies suggest that the effects of chamomile on sleep might not be strong or consistent. However, chamomile remains a well-tolerated and safe option for those looking to try a natural sleep aid.

8. Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice has gained attention for its sleep-promoting properties, which are attributed to several mechanisms:
Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Studies have shown that consuming tart cherry juice can increase melatonin levels in the body, potentially improving sleep duration and quality.

Research also suggests that tart cherry juice can increase the availability of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which in turn is converted to melatonin. One mechanism involves the inhibition of the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) by compounds in cherry juice, which prevents the degradation of tryptophan.

The Bottom Line

A good night’s sleep is essential to your health.

Sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals like melatonin and serotonin can be found in some foods and drinks.

Certain foods and drinks have antioxidants and nutrients that help you sleep better by making it easier to fall asleep or stay asleep longer.

To get the most benefit from these sleep-enhancing foods and drinks, eat them 2–3 hours before bed. It might cause digestive issues, like acid reflux, if you eat right before bed. Also, sticking to a regular eating schedule can improve digestion and support better sleep.

More research is needed to know exactly how foods and drinks affect sleep, but what we do know looks promising. You can find more info on diet and sleep at the National Sleep Foundation.

Need professional help to diagnose and address your sleep problems? Schedule an online consultation with sleep specialist Dr. John Williams.

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