Did you know that what you eat can affect your sleep? That’s right — there are foods that can help us enjoy a blissful night’s rest, while other foods and eating habits can prevent us from getting our needed zzz’s.
“Foods higher in specific nutrients can enhance our ability to go to sleep and the quality of sleep,” said Vandana Sheth, a California-based registered dietitian nutritionist who provides counseling about diet and sleep hygiene to clients.
That’s probably welcome news for those of us who experience sleep problems occasionally or just about every night.
Below is a list of snacks and dinner foods worth considering for a good night’s sleep.
1. Berries with yogurt.
Carbohydrates in berries can help to amplify serotonin production in the brain, while yogurt is a source of sleep-promoting tryptophan. “Yogurt isn’t just for breakfast, and it helps to satisfy that sweet, creamy treat that many individuals enjoy as a nighttime snack,” said Nancy Z. Farrell Allen, a Virginia-based registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Tart cherry juice with walnuts.
This snack is rich in melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Upon darkness, production of melatonin increases, helping to promote healthy sleep.
Though some people who have trouble sleeping may consider a melatonin supplement, tart cherries provide a natural source of the hormone. In one study, those who drank tart cherry juice had higher melatonin levels and experienced longer, better quality sleep compared to a placebo group. Tart cherry juice had beneficial effects on sleep in older adults with insomnia in another study.
Walnuts, along with pistachios and almonds, are another source of melatonin, and can be combined with a shot of tart cherry juice for a post-dinner snack, according to Sheth.
3. Chickpeas with a glass of milk.
Chickpeas and milk are a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that can help to improve sleep. Tryptophan gets converted to melatonin in the brain, as well as serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps promote sleep and relaxation.
I like roasting chickpeas with a little bit of olive oil and salt, which gives them a crunchy texture. (Simply rinse them, pat them dry, mix with oil and seasonings, then roast at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.)
Enjoy them with a glass of warm milk for a nighttime snack. (Note that both cow’s milk and soy milk are sources of tryptophan.)
Kiwi is a source of antioxidants and serotonin, which may help improve sleep onset, duration and efficiency — which refers to percentage of total time in bed actually spent in sleep — in adults with sleep disturbances according to one study.
An easy way to enjoy kiwi is to cut the fruit in half horizontally, and scoop the flesh with a spoon.
5. Spinach salad with quinoa, avocado and pumpkin seeds.
Start your dinner with a salad containing these ingredients, which are rich sources of magnesium, a mineral needed for normal sleep.
“Magnesium regulates the neurotransmitter melatonin, and helps to keep our sleep cycles in check,” Farrell Allen said.
Magnesium also works by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, in the brain, which slows down your thinking and helps you fall asleep. In fact, not having adequate levels of the mineral can contribute to insomnia.
If you don’t have pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds are other good sources of magnesium, Farrell Allen explained.
For a bonus hit of flavor, add a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts as well.
6. Bananas with peanut butter.
This combination is not only magnesium-rich, it will also help to blunt spikes in blood sugar and can be particularly helpful for those with diabetes, Sheth explained.
7. Protein-rich foods for dinner.
Consider fish, eggs and cheese at dinnertime, as they contain the amino acid L-ornithine, Sheth explained. According to one small study, this amino acid can potentially relieve stress and improve sleep quality when it comes to fatigue.
8. Herbal tea.
A cup of herbal tea can serve as a snoozeworthy beverage. “Some of my clients find chamomile tea helpful as part of their sleep routine to unwind and go to sleep,” Sheth said. “It’s soothing, calming and contains an antioxidant called apigenin which may help initiate the sleep cycle.”
Passionflower tea may offer short-term sleep benefits for healthy adults with mild fluctuations in sleep quality, according to one study. “It actually increases levels of GABA in our brain,” Sheth said.
9. Golden milk made with turmeric.
Turmeric is calming to the stomach, and when you add it to warm milk, it can potentially help you fall asleep faster or sleep better, Sheth explained. You can add black pepper, which enhances our ability to absorb the curcumin, the bright yellow compound in turmeric that offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “I also like to add cinnamon, nutmeg and honey,” Sheth said.