There’s nothing worse than getting into bed only to spend the next few hours tossing and turning before finally falling asleep. Maybe you had too much coffee or maybe there’s a lot on your mind, but it's possible your sleeplessness is from something you ate. Although it’s not something we normally think about, your diet has an effect on your ability to fall asleep at night.
“Some foods may help with falling a sleep or sleep duration while other foods may inhibit or affect the quality of sleep,” says Tami Lyon, RD, MPH.
Avoiding foods with caffeine or sugar before bed can help you get some shuteye, but foods rich in tryptophan and melatonin also help induce sleep. Tryptophan, an amino-acid, is the precursor to serotonin, a hormone that helps us feel relaxed. Serotonin is also essential in producing melatonin, a key hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.
“The secret to a sleep inducing snack is pairing a tryptophan-rich food with a complex carbohydrate,” says Sara Ansari, RD, a private practice dietitian based in San Francisco and founder of Designer Diets. Carbohydrates allow the tryptophan to be more readily available to your brain — just think about how sleepy you feel after eating turkey and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving.
To help you sleep better at night, we’ve consulted with nutritionists Lyon and Ansari to come up with a list of foods you should be adding to your diet.
Turkey and Chicken
Most high protein foods contain tryptophan, and turkey and chicken are a great source of the amino acid. Make sure to pair your poultry with a complex carbohydrate to boost serotonin levels, so eat them with a piece of whole wheat bread or a side of brown rice to optimize relaxation.
Cherries are one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring melatonin, which regulates our circadian rhythm. Studies show that drinking tart cherry juice can help you to sleep longer, so load up on this antioxidant-rich fruit to help you hit the hay at night.
Eggs are another food high in protein and tryptophan, but they also contain a good source of vitamin B12, another restful sleep promoter. Try eating a hard boiled egg with avocado as a snack before bed, suggests Lyon.
Researchers have found that eating kiwi helps people not only fall asleep faster and for longer, but it improves their quality of sleep overall. Kiwis are high in antioxidants, which are believed to help with sleep, and they are rich in serotonin as well, so they are naturally relaxing.
Dairy milk naturally contains melatonin, so drinking a warm glass of milk before bed can help regulate your circadian rhythms. Try having a bowl of milk and a low-sugar, high-fiber cereal to get that perfect tryptophan and carbohydrate combo, advises Ansari.
Rice has a high glycemic index, and studies show that these types of carbohydrates help shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep at night. Consuming jasmine rice in particular cuts that time in half, research has found.
Nuts are high in magnesium, which can act as a natural sleep aid. They are also a tryptophan-rich food, so try eating them in nut-butter form with a carbohydrate such as a banana or whole wheat toast.