You might think that the answer to a better night’s rest can be found in a pill bottle. But guess what? The answer actually lies in your kitchen. What you eat — and don’t eat — can have a profound effect on your slumber.
First, let’s take a look at some of the biggest mealtime mistakes you might be making.
Pigging out before bed
Not only does eating an entire sleeve of Oreos mess with your diet, it messes with your rest. Your body can’t properly digest large amounts of food when it’s sleeping. So scarfing a big meal before bed means you’ll spend most of the night tossing and turning while your body tries to process the provisions.
Eating sugary foods
That includes snacks with lots of processed carbs like cookies, cake, and candy. Because as those break down, the sugar and carbs will cause a spike in your blood sugar and keep you humming.
Eating fatty foods
Anything with a lot of fat, like burgers, fries, or ice cream takes a lot of time to digest. That means when you’re ready to fall asleep, your stomach will still be wide awake working hard to digest your hot fudge sundae.
Scarfing spicy foods
At night, the chemicals in hot spices and peppers can over-stimulate your senses, making you more likely to have an upset stomach. When that happens, good luck falling asleep.
So what should you be eating to make sure you get a restful night? Here are a few foods to fall asleep by:
Tart cherry juice
Cherry juice is not only packed with plenty of antioxidant power, it also may help you get a better night’s rest. In one small study, researchers gave 15 older adults two cups of cherry juice a day – one in the morning, and one before bed. The cherry juice drinkers fell asleep faster — on average almost 20 minutes faster — compared to those who drank a placebo.1 Tart cherries are high in melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone which helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
You already know that this fatty fish is good for your heart. But did you know it may also help you fall asleep faster? British research found that when children were given 600 mg doses of DHA omega-3 supplements for about four months they slept nearly an hour longer each night, with fewer sleep disturbances compared to those who got a placebo.2 The researchers believe the same should hold true with adults. DHA helps to stabilize the release of melatonin, which tends to shift throughout different periods in life.
Whole-grain breads and cereals
Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates help boost serotonin levels in your brain, which has a calming effect. Remember, though, complex carbs are different from simple carbs. The simple carbs, like white pastas, muffins, cookies and candy, will disturb your sleep cycle.
This delicious fruit is chock full of magnesium, a mineral that helps promote muscle relaxation, as well as potassium, which is important to promote deep sleep. It’s also a carb which will help make you sleepy as well.
Yes, the reason you need a nap after the Thanksgiving meal is rooted in science. Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin. Other foods that contain tryptophan include eggs, chicken, and nuts. Of note: Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain. So try a few whole-wheat crackers with a bit of peanut butter, or a small turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
Ready for your blanket yet?
1. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010;13(3):579-83. PMID: 20438325.
2. Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Richardson AJ. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study: a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res. 2014;23(4):364-88. PMID: 24605819.