Are you struggling with sleep? Does it take you a considerable amount of time to finally fall asleep? When you do get to sleep, is your sleep restless, causing you to toss and turn and constantly drift between sleepfulness and wakefulness throughout the night? That doesn’t need to always be the case.
Thankfully, what you eat plays a significant role in the quality of your sleep and how quickly you fall asleep, so you can easily fix this issue. Ensure that you start taking in foods to help sleep, and avoid the ones that do not, especially in the hours prior to bedtime, and you’ll start experiencing quality sleeps.
What helps you sleep? Foods that make you sleepy include ones that are high in things like calcium, carbohydrates, magnesium, melatonin and tryptophan. Conversely, you’re going to want to avoid or limit foods that are fatty, spicy or sugary or that contain caffeine. Also take into account the impact of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) on sleepiness.
The best way to limit GERD’s impact on your sleep is to have lunch be your largest meal, not dinner, and don’t eat at all during the three hours immediately preceding sleep. Also, foods that you want to avoid because of their negative impact on your sleep are often the same ones that exacerbate GERD’s severity.
Calcium is best known for helping create and maintain strong bones and teeth. However, it also has a tremendously positive impact on sleep as research has shown that foods that have considerable amounts of calcium help people fall asleep and enjoy greater sleep quality. Part of the reason for why calcium is so beneficial for sleep sufferers is because of how well it interacts with magnesium and tryptophan.
If you’re consuming around 1,100 milligrams of calcium every day, you’re taking in a good amount as it relates to your nutritional and sleep-related needs. However, if you’re well short of that, increasing it by including these foods that help you sleep through the night might be all that you need.
Some of the best options for those wanting to increase their calcium intake include:
- Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Kale and other dark greens
For those experiencing difficulty with sleep, potassium-rich foods can often serve as a solution to those problems. They help improve sleep efficiency and reduce how often you wake up after having fallen asleep. They also offer related benefits such as a reduction in muscle spasms and contractions, which, if not decreased, can negatively impact sleep on their own. Bananas may be the most famous potassium-rich food, but it’s far from the only one. Here’s a more thorough list of options:
Do you eat pasta for dinner on occasion? You might want to increase the number of times that you do that if you’re struggling with sleep difficulties. That’s because carbohydrate-rich foods have been shown to help people sleep. Also consider that, despite many attributing sleepiness following Thanksgiving dinner to the turkey that they ate, it’s more likely that all of the carb-heavy foods that they ate in addition to the turkey likely had more to do with it. However, it should be pointed out that carbs do help the tryptophan from turkey work more effectively since carbs facilitate tryptophan production.
Which carb-heavy foods should be consumed prior to sleep? These ones are good carb-heavy foods to eat before bed:
Note that carbohydrate-laden foods that have a significant glycemic index tend to further decrease the amount of time that it takes people to fall asleep. So, aim for foods like potatoes and bread as opposed to beans and pasta. MeStill, the latter group will continue to have a positive impact on your sleep, just not as strong of one.
Does magnesium help with sleep? Yes, magnesium and sleep go together. More to the point, those who suffer from even minor magnesium deficiency have been shown to experience sleep difficulties as a result. However, adding magnesium-rich foods on top of a sufficient store of magnesium inside your body isn’t going to have all that much of an impact on your sleep quality. You need to already be deficient in order to see a noticeable result from magnesium-rich foods.
For those who are in fact deficient and can be helped by magnesium-rich foods, you are going to want to know which foods combine magnesium sleep. These do:
- Almonds and cashews
- Soy products
- Whole grains such as barley
Also take into account that magnesium deficiency can cause twitches, muscle tightness and excessively cold feet and hands, so increasing your magnesium intake can help decrease those other potential sleep disrupters.
Melatonin is one of the best things to help you sleep. This is because it’s the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. In other words, it’s what causes you to instinctively go to sleep and wake up at the appropriate times. It’s produced by your body more noticeably as bedtime nears and slows down, if you’re not awake at atypical hours such as is experienced by those working graveyard shifts, in the morning.
It is already naturally produced by your body, but more of it can help improve your ability to sleep restfully. For example, drinking tart cherry juice every day has been shown to positively affect insomnia symptoms. Another source of melatonin that’s been studied is walnuts. Here’s a list of foods that are good sources for magnesium:
It should also be noted that vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan into melatonin, and adding foods strong in vitamin B6 is especially effective in improving sleep habits in those who are deficient in it. Vitamin B6 also helps keep depression, which can disrupt sleep as well, at bay. Foods that will help keep you away from being deficient in vitamin B6 include:
- Pistachio nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Tryptophan is a powerful natural sedative that has been known to have a positive effect on even extreme sleep-related disorders. Although the reputation that it has in relation to the turkey served at Thanksgiving dinners may not be quite as warranted as it receives, that turkey-related tryptophan does play a role in how sleepy eaters get afterwards.
Of course, turkey is a significant source of tryptophan. However, it should be pointed out that, in general, turkey does not have any more tryptophan than other types of meats such as chicken. Of course, that fact also means that you have more choices for tryptophan-rich foods than you might have realized.
Here are some of the best options for those looking to up their tryptophan intake:
- Dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt
- Fruits such as apples, bananas and peaches
- Meat such as chicken, salmon, sardines and turkey
- Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
- Seeds such as flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
- Vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, onions and spinach
A vitamin D deficiency has been shown to result in sleep that is not as deep as would otherwise be the case. It also results in being more tired during the day. Of course, the most famous way for taking in vitamin D is by spending some time in the sun, and a related benefit of doing that is time in the sun helping your body regulate sleep patterns irrespective of its vitamin D connections. These related benefits are especially true when morning sun is what is experienced. Of course, this sun-related tip does not apply to those working graveyard shifts.
To improve your vitamin D levels through food, consume some of these options:
- Vitamin D-fortified foods
Now that you know which foods to consume more of throughout the day and especially so as bedtime nears, you should take note of the foods that you should lessen or eliminate from your diet so that you can sleep more restfully.
Caffeinated food is an absolute no-go with a significant exception.
In general, you want to avoid all foods with caffeine towards the end of the day, generally the last seven or eight hours before your bedtime. Of course, caffeine is more often consumed in drinks such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, but also be wary of foods such as dark chocolate, coffee- and chocolate-flavored foods such as ice cream, yogurt, cake and cereal and, of course, chocolate-covered coffee beans.
The one exception is that if you have consumed caffeine late in the day every day for a while, completely eliminating that will likely reduce your ability to restfully sleep until your body gets used to not receiving that caffeine then. So, either plan for that adjustment period or gradually reduce how much of that caffeinated item you consume at this time. Reducing caffeine intake will always cause withdrawals, and the time of day that you consume caffeine plays a role in that too.
One type of food that you may not have realized can keep you awake is fatty food. You might think that eating something like that will essentially knock you out for the night, but this is far from the case. In fact, studies have shown that people who eat more saturated fat experience more awakenings throughout the night.
One reason for this is because fat causes stomach acid to build up, which is exacerbated when lying down as those acids then start reaching into the esophagus. Another fat-related factor is fat disrupting the production of orexin, naturally produced chemicals that help regulate sleepiness.
Do take into account that some nutritious foods are fatty; these are ones that you should continue to consume, but limit your eating of them as sleepy time nears. Examples of high-fat healthy foods include avocados, cheese, eggs and nuts.
Of course, you should limit unhealthy fatty food at all times of the day, but especially do so in the hours leading up to your bedtime. These types of foods generally include hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs and bacon.
Spicy foods do offer plenty of health benefits, but they are not on the list of the best foods to eat before bed. This is because they can cause acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion, which, like for fatty foods, worsen when you’re lying down as that’s when the sensitive esophagus gets involved with these spices. Another spice-related concern is that spicy foods such as chili peppers often cause an increase in the body’s temperature. You need your body temperature to be normal for your body to restfully sleep.
Hours Before Bedtime
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you simply want to eat less in the final hours before you fall asleep. Your body working hard to digest a lot of calories results in it doing that task instead of helping you fall asleep. So, if you are hungry as bedtime nears, do take advantage of the above foods that are good for sleepiness, but do so in moderation. Even those foods will only harm your sleep quality if they are eaten to excess. Some lighter options can be a bowl of cereal with milk or a peanut butter sandwich.