5 Foods That Help You Sleep

Healthy eating habits may be more important than eating particular foods for sleep. Here’s both: a list of five foods that help you sleep, plus three healthy eating habits to ensure you get a good night of zzz’s tonight.

Your food and exercise habits have a direct effect on how you sleep. We used to think exercising before bed keeps you awake, but new research disproves that. In fact, some exercises before bed promote healthy, deep sleep. Yoga, for instance, or a calming stretching meditation relaxation DVD are natural remedies that help you fall asleep fast. The key is knowing your body, and paying attention to how exercise and food affects how you sleep.

5 Foods for Sleep

According to some doctors and sleep experts, what you eat affects your zzz’s. This list of foods includes an explanation of how the nutrients might help you fall and stay asleep all the night long.

1. Cereal, bread, and crackers for carbohydrates

This is my least favorite food for sleep: Carbohydrate-rich foods complement dairy foods by increasing the level of sleep-inducing tryptophan in the blood. Research shows that relatively high blood glucose levels can lead to more restful sleep in some people. So, a few sleepytime snacks might include a bowl of cereal and milk, yogurt and crackers, or bread and cheese. Go easy on the ice cream cones, though!

2. Dairy foods for tryptophan

sleep foods

“Pure Milk Drop” image by Mike Dyer, via Flickr CC License

Milk, yogurt, cheese, and even ice cream contain tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting substance. Other foods that are high in tryptophan include nuts and seeds, bananas, honey, eggs, and turkey.

If you’re having a glass of milk to help you sleep, warm it up. Warmer dairy products metabolize more quickly than cooler ones, so they’ll help you fall asleep faster. Avoid putting artificial sweeteners in your milk, because they tend to increase alertness.

3. Avoid protein-rich foods – they don’t help you sleep

Protein is essential for energy and good health during the day, but it’s not a good food to eat before bed. Protein-rich, high-fat foods (meats, especially) are harder to digest than dairy or carbohydrates. If you find yourself sleepy and moody during the day, you might not be eating the right foods or getting the right nutrients. Read 6 Foods to Stabilize Emotions and Give You Energy.

4. Pay attention to supplements and medications that affect sleep

Pain relievers, weight loss pills, diuretics, and cold medicines are over the counter and prescription drugs that contain caffeine. In fact, some supplements and over the counter medications have as much or even more caffeine than a cup of coffee. If you need help sleeping, food may not be the solution. Check the label of your over the counter medications and prescription drugs to see if they interfere with sleep or cause insomnia.

5. Have your nightcap with dinner

Alcohol may make you sleepy, but it can also prevent deep sleep and cause you to wake up during the night. Alcohol leads to frequent awakenings, less restful sleep, headaches, night sweats and even nightmares. Wine, beer, and hard liquor are definitely not foods that help you sleep! If you drink in the evening, balance each drink with a glass a water to dilute the effects of the booze. Stop drinking alcohol four to six hours before bedtime if you need a good night’s sleep.

The “nightcap” I suggest is a sleepytime tea, such as  Stash Tea Chamomile Nights Herbal Tea. It’s not really a food that helps you sleep; chamomile or valerian root isn’t scientifically proven to help with sleeplessness. But, enjoying a warm cup of tea or milk might be the bedtime ritual you need for a good night’s rest.

One of my healthy eating habits below says you shouldn’t drink fluids before going to bed. But, everyone is different, which means you need to experiment with different foods that help you sleep until you find what works for you.

3 Eating Habits to Help You Sleep

“While the pros and cons of particular foods may seem to change with the latest headlines, the overall benefits of consuming a healthy diet and avoiding obesity are not in dispute,” writes Dr Lawrence Epstein in A Good Night’s Sleep. He recommends striving to maintain a high-fiber, low-fat diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

1. Don’t eat right before bed

A full belly makes it hard to fall asleep – unless you have a fast metabolism. Eating spicy, fatty foods can disrupt your digestive system, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Foods that don’t help you sleep include a rich Mexican meal of burritos, tacos, fried ice cream, and sopapilla cheesecake pie!

2. Or have a small bedtime snack? It depends on your metabolism

foods that help you sleep

Cinnamon Crackers image by Christa via Flickr, CC License

Whether or not particular foods help you sleep – or whether you should eat right before going to bed – depends on your body and ability to sleep well. If you struggle with insomnia, a little food in your stomach may help you sleep. Don’t eat a full meal before bed, as it will strain your digestive system and  making you uncomfortable and unable to fall asleep fast.

3. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages or other fluids before sleeping

Both caffeine and alcohol interfere with sleep. It can take several hours for the stimulating effects of coffee, tea, soda pop, hot chocolate, or other sources of caffeine to wear off. Also, drinking lots of fluids before bed can cause you to wake up repeatedly to use the bathroom.

If you fall asleep fast but wake up in the night, read How to Get Back to Sleep in the Middle of the Night.

Going beyond foods that help you sleep

If you feel sleepy during the day or keep waking up in the night, you may have obstructive sleep apnea. Apnea occurs when tissues in your throat to block your airways while you sleep. This causes you to stop breathing – perhaps hundreds of times per night. People with sleep apnea often don’t remember waking up in the middle of the night, but their sleep is disrupted. Symptoms of sleep apnea include headaches in the morning and falling asleep easily during the day.

What do you think about these foods for sleep or eating before bedtime?

I don’t eat anything before going to bed, because I’d rather fall asleep on an empty stomach. My husband, on the other hand, has a super high metabolism. It’s better for him to have a bedtime snack than go to bed hungry, or else he wakes up during the night and can’t get back to sleep.

Sources: 1) Foods That Help or Harm Your Sleep on WebMD; and 2) Porter, J. M., & Horne, J. A. (1981). Bed-time food supplements and sleep: effects of different carbohydrate levels. Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, 51(4), 426-433.

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