We all know food can affect the way we feel. A big, heavy meal in the middle of the day can often leave us sluggish and unmotivated, while a high protein breakfast can help us feel more energized and ready for the day.
But which foods are best at promoting restful sleep? With a third of US adults getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night, we have to wonder how diet could be preventing rest. It turns out, specific foods can keep us awake, while others can help us fall asleep quickly and sleep more comfortably.
Why Diet Matters?
Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, your body will not let you sleep. One reason for this could be digestion. When the body is working hard to digest food, it can be difficult to rest peacefully. Foods that are notably harder to digest can make sleep even more elusive. To help you understand how your food choices are keeping you from rest, we’ve included a list of the best and worst foods for sleep below.
8 Best Foods For Sleep
The foods below contain vitamins and minerals that encourage relaxation so we can find rest more easily.
Bananas are a perfect breakfast food because they contain carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamin B6, all of which help boost energy levels. But bananas are also great for promoting sleep. They contain magnesium, which is a natural muscle relaxer. Additionally, the carbs in bananas also encourage sleepiness.
Since honey can raise insulin, this allows tryptophan to enter the brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes Niacin. Niacin helps to produce serotonin, which is necessary for the production of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a key to helping the body relax and prepare for sleep. Consider added a spoon full to camomile tea or just eating it as is.
Like honey, almonds also contain tryptophan, which can help encourage melatonin production. Almonds also contain magnesium for muscle relaxation. This combination can naturally reduce muscle and nerve activity, and steady the heartbeat.
Oats are rich in fiber and other vitamins and minerals that promote health. But they also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps encourage melatonin production, leading to more relaxation.
There’s a reason many of us need a nap after Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey contains tryptophan, which can give us a gentle nudge towards sleep.
Believe it or not, cherries naturally contain melatonin. Snacking on a few at night can help you relax more fully and fall asleep faster.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are packed full of vitamins and minerals that make them perfect for sleep. Their complex carbohydrates and potassium help to relax muscles and nerves naturally. Regular potatoes are also a great source of potassium.
8. Chamomile Tea
For years, chamomile tea has been able to reduce insomnia. One reason for this is the presence of apigenin, an antioxidant that binds specific anxiety receptors in the brain. When we are less anxious, we tend to relax and fall asleep faster.
8 Worst Foods For Sleep
The foods below can be difficult to digest, making it harder for us to relax into sleep.
1. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous Vegetables, like broccoli, are packed full of healthy vitamins. But it is best to eat them with lunch. The high levels of insoluble fiber can take a long time to digest. If we try to lay down while the body is still working to process them, it can keep us from getting comfortable.
2. Fatty Foods
High-fat foods can be damaging to our health and our sleep. When fat enters the body, it simulates an overproduction of stomach acid. When this happens, it can leak into the esophagus and cause heartburn. Since fat can also loosen the barrier between the stomach and the throat, it can make it easier for acid to leak through into other areas. Trying to sleep with heartburn can be next to impossible.
It may seem obvious, but some may not realize just how long caffeine stays in our systems. You can often feel the effects of coffee even after 8 hours. Because caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, drinking coffee at night can leave you awake for hours past your bedtime. Although everyone’s sensitivity to caffeine will vary, experts suggest avoiding coffee at least 3 hours before bed.
A late-night snack of cheese and crackers could leave you wide awake and counting sheep. Cheese contains a high level of tyramine. This amino acid produces norepinephrine, a stimulant that promotes brain activity. As you try to relax in bed, tyramine could cause a racing, anxious mind.
5. Dark Chocolate
Although dark chocolate is a healthier dessert option, it can, unfortunately, prevent you from getting shut-eye. Like coffee, dark chocolate contains caffeine, which can interfere with sleep. Just 1.55 ounces of dark chocolate contains 12 mg of caffeine. Additionally, chocolate contains theobromine, which can speed up the heart rate and increase wakefulness.
6. Protein-Rich Foods
Protein-rich foods can reduce the amount of tryptophan that can reach the brain. As we mentioned above, tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin. Tryptophan must compete with protein to get through the blood-brain barrier. This competition reduces the chance that tryptophan will ever convert to serotonin. Protein also contains tyrosine, an amino acid that increases brain activity.
7. Acid-Rich Foods
Like cheese, acid-rich foods, such as tomato sauce and citrus fruits, contain tyramine. As we mentioned above, tyramine can increase wakefulness and make sleep difficult to come by.
8. Spicy Food
Spicy foods can increase blood flow and raise your body temperature, which is not conducive to sleep. You can still have spicy curry for dinner, but be sure to give your body at least 3 hours to fully digest your meal before bedtime.
In addition to establishing healthy sleep hygiene, eating some of the best foods for sleep outlined above can help you find a better night’s sleep.