Food Choices That Promote Sleep

There’s no denying the importance of a good night’s sleep. Failing to get a full seven to eight hours of rest can leave one feeling irritable, distracted, and above all exhausted. But that’s not all—many studies have shown that people who regularly get less sleep than they should be getting are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Sleeplessness can also kill one’s sex drive, leading to relationship problems.

Thankfully, there are ways to fight insomnia and it starts with your diet. There are foods that can increase melatonin levels and make it easier to get a solid night’s sleep, including these 20…

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1. Walnuts

The walnut is one of the best foods you can eat right before bed. That’s because eating walnuts causes the human brain to secrete melatonin, the chemical responsible for regulating the body’s internal clock. Research has shown that walnuts contain enough melatonin to have a substantial impact on anyone currently struggling with sleeplessness.

Of course, it’s worth noting that walnuts alone can’t cure a serious bout of insomnia. If you find yourself tossing and turning for hours at a time more than once or twice a week, you should consult your doctor.

2. Almonds

Almonds, which contain lots of protein and taste delicious, are a great snack at any time of the day (and they make a particularly great addition to any trail mix). But they’re especially effective right before bed, as they contain the sleep-enhancing amino acid known as tryptophan. Almonds are also a good source of the nutrient magnesium, which has been shown to naturally relax our muscles and encourage a solid night’s rest.

So, if you’ve been struggling with sleep in recent days, reach for a handful of almonds shortly before going to bed.

3. Cheese

There’s no denying that cheese—if consumed in excess—can be a poor choice when trying to maintain a healthy body weight. But if eaten in moderation it’s actually a very nutritious food and it can actually help us get a good night’s sleep.

The key is tryptophan, an amino acid that can be found in cheese. Tryptophan helps the human body produce serotonin, which helps regulate mood and can assist in making us fall asleep. That said, keep your pre-bed cheese snack to a single serving because fat – of which there’s a lot in cheese – can take a long time to digest.

4. Lettuce

Lettuce is always a healthy food choice when trying to maintain a healthy body weight, but it’s a particularly wise choice when battling insomnia. That’s because lettuce contains lactucarium, a substance with sedative powers.

There are many ways you can consume lettuce before bed. You can try a sandwich that’s heavy on the lettuce and low on meat, or you can make a light salad with other foods shown to help promote sleep (like walnuts, almonds, and cheese) – just make sure to skip the high-fat dressing.

5. Pretzels

Generally speaking it’s a good idea to avoid eating carbohydrates before bed. But a low-fat and low-calorie carbohydrate snack, like pretzels, can actually help you sleep. That’s because pretzels have a high glycemic index, meaning they’ll spike blood sugar and the hormone that regulates glucose in the blood and make you feel tired.

The good news is that, unlike other carbs – like potato chips or fried rice – pretzels are low in fat and calories, which means they won’t cause you to put on lots of weight if you eat them before going to sleep.

6. Tuna

Like many of the other items on this list, tuna is a healthy diet choice that’s a great food option any time of the day. But it’s particularly great right before bed. That’s because tuna contains vitamin B6, which is critical in the production of melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone that naturally comes on once darkness falls.

Just make sure that if you’re eating tuna salad you avoid consuming copious amounts of high-fat mayonnaise right before bed. If you’re not a fan of tuna, other vitamin B6-heavy foods include chickpeas, bananas, and salmon.

7. White rice

Like pretzels, which also cracked this list,  white rice is a carbohydrate with a high glycemic index. That means it can cause our blood sugar and insulin levels to react in a way that promotes sleep. And, also like pretzels, white rice is low in fat and calories, meaning eating it before bed won’t cause you to gain a lot of weight.

The key, of course, is to avoid combining white rice with something that will cause you to gain weight (like butter or deep-fried meats). Instead, throw in some peas, kale, or some other kind of vegetable.

8. Cherry Juice

We all know that cherries are delicious and make an excellent addition to any dessert or smoothie, but research shows they can also help us sleep. In one study people who drank cherry juice on a regular basis slept, on average, 84 minutes longer than people on placebo.

That’s because cherry juice—and especially the tart variety—is an excellent source of both melatonin and the amino acid tryptophan, both of which can help promote sleep. That’s why sleep experts now recommend people struggling with insomnia to drink two glasses of tart cherry juice every day.

9. Cereal

Most of us turn to our favorite box of cereal after crawling out of bed. But new research shows that eating cereal is actually a great idea before turning in for the night.

That’s because cereal contains lots of relatively low-fat and low-calorie carbohydrates that can cause blood sugar levels to act in a way that promotes sleep. They key, of course, is to get your hands on a low-sugar cereal made with whole grains—like buckwheat, oat and quinoa—so that your blood sugar levels remain steady and you won’t wake up in the middle of the night.

10. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is a daisy-like herb that’s been used in folk and traditional medicine for centuries. These days it’s often used to help insomniacs get over their sleep troubles. That’s because chamomile tea contains properties that make it a mild tranquilizer and sleep inducer, meaning it’s the perfect before-bed beverage.

As if that’s not enough, chamomile tea has been shown to help with inflammation, muscle pain, menstrual problems, ulcers, skin wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, arthritis, and even hemorrhoids. Maybe that’s why it’s estimated that more than one million cups of chamomile tea are consumed each day.

11. Honey

Honey is fast becoming one of the most widely applicable foods in the world. Now, new research shows that honey can actually help us get a good night’s sleep.

Recent studies have shown that, for sleep purposes, raw honey contains a perfect balance of fructose and glucose. In essence, this balance helps the liver produce a satisfactory amount of glycogen throughout the day and night, thereby promoting a restful sleep. Many other foods leave our body with less glycogen than it needs in the middle of the night, which can cause us to wake up and then toss and turn.

12. Elk Meat

Many of us know that turkey meat contains the amino acid tryptophan, a substance that can help us sleep. But elk meat actually contains twice the tryptophan found in turkey breast, making it quite possibly the best meat to consume if you’re looking for a full night’s rest.

Elk meat is very similar to beef, meaning it tastes particularly great when marinated for a few hours and then placed on a hot grill.

13. Turkey

It’s true what they say, a big Thanksgiving turkey dinner will make you sleepy! While some of it might be due to the wine and large amount of food, there’s an actual scientific reason behind why turkey (and milk) makes us tired. It’s because it contains tryptophan, a chemical that causes drowsiness.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough tryptophan that it can be used as a remedy for insomnia or a restless sleep. “You’d have to drink a lot of milk or turkey to have a major effect,” says Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., CEO of the National Sleep Foundation to “[But] if you need a little bit of a push in the right direction [it might help].”

14. Kiwi

Kiwis are a nice light, healthy snack that pack a sweet punch! In addition to being super delicious, they’ve also been found to improve sleep. Healthline writes that one medium kiwi contains 50 calories and a significant amount of nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and several trace minerals.

The source also refers to a four-week study that compared 24 adults who consumed two kiwifruits before tucking in for the night. The study found that 42 percent of participants fell asleep faster when they ate the kiwi one hour before going to bed, as opposed to when they’d eat nothing. Not only that, but their ability to sleep through the night without waking improved by five percent.

Why do kiwis potentially help us sleep? Healthline suggests it’s due to their serotonin content. “It has also been suggested that the antioxidants in kiwis, such as vitamin c and carotenoids, may be partly responsible for their sleep-promoting effects. This is thought to be due to their role in reducing inflammation,” writes the source.

15. Fish

Fish is a healthy alternative to red meat and it contains ample amounts of vitamin B6 which is what the body needs to make melatonin and serotonin. Fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut are the best sources for this vitamin. If you’re looking for a head start to bedtime, the first step is to eat some fish for dinner! Reader’s Digest notes there are some other foods high in vitamin B6, like pistachio nuts and raw garlic.

16. Passion Fruit Tea

Reader’s Digest relies on the research from an Australian study for this one, but apparently a cup of passionfruit tea one hour before bed could help contribute to a better sleep. Researchers who took part in the study believe the reason behind why passionfruit tea works is because of Harman alkaloids. There are high levels of this chemical in the flower which affect the nervous system in such a way that makes you feel more tired.

Healthline also contributes to the claim that passion fruit tea helps improve sleep by stating it has many calming properties. This particular tea is used to reduce anxiety because it contains apigenin, an antioxidant that has a calming effect on the brain.

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17. Kale

The body needs calcium to help the brain create hormones like tryptophan and melatonin which are what allows us sleep at night. Lucky for us, there are lots of food rich in calcium (ex. spinach and mustard greens), and kale is one of them!

EatingWell notes that there’s plenty of research that suggests being calcium deficient affects a person’s ability to sleep.

18. Oatmeal

Oatmeal doesn’t have to a strictly morning meal. It can be enjoyed as a bedtime snack too! In fact Good Housekeeping suggests it! “Grains in oatmeal trigger insulin production much like whole-grain bread,” says Cynthia Pasquella, CCN, CHLC, CWC to the source. “They raise your blood sugar naturally and make you feel sleepy. Oats are also rich in melatonin, which relaxes the body and helps you fall asleep.”

19. Bananas

Keri Gans, a registered dietician in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet, told that bananas are a great snack to have before bed because they help keep you asleep. They contain magnesium and potassium which are natural muscle-relaxants.

Not only do they contribute to a good sleep, but Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., CEO of the National Sleep Foundation says, “They’re overall health promoters. We need potassium for cardiovascular health and cognitive functioning.”

20. Sweet Potato

Not only are sweet potatoes a great addition to any meal, they’re apparently great for a good night’s sleep, too! writes that they “provide sleep-promoting complex carbohydrates, they also contain that muscle-relaxant potassium.”

To enjoy these potatoes as a bedtime snack, Good Housekeeping advises drizzling a baked sweet potato with some honey and a pinch of sea salt, or nut butter.