Nutrition & Sleep: What Foods Help and Prevent Sleep?
Find out which foods and drinks are best for getting the sleep you need (and which may be sabotaging your good night's rest).
Trouble sleeping at night? It may be due to what you’re eating and drinking during the day. Bad choices can lead you to watch the clock in the wee hours of the morning. Follow these tips and strategies to sleep easier starting tonight.
- Drink coffee in moderation. Many of us count on caffeine to stay awake. In fact, according to one poll, 43 percent of us are “very likely” to consume beverages that contain caffeine to stay awake because it blocks sleep-promoting chemicals in the brain and revs up our adrenaline levels. But drinking coffee can be a vicious cycle because caffeine is a stimulant that interferes with sleep, lasting up to six hours in the body. You should avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Beware of hidden sources of caffeine. Sure, most of us drink at least one serving of caffeinated coffee, tea or soda per day. But this doesn’t include the caffeine that’s in everything from energy drinks to chocolate. Limit your daily caffeine intake to three 8-oz. cups or 250 milligrams.
- Taste tart cherries. A recent study showed that drinking tart cherry juice can actually increase sleep time. Tart cherries contain high levels of phytochemicals including melatonin, a hormone which is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that makes you sleepy.
- Focus on sleep-inducing snacks. Eating a late-night snack rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that helps create serotonin and melatonin) helps to make you drowsy. Protein is a building block for tryptophan, so pick turkey, seafood, poultry or nuts. Almonds, for example, contain protein and magnesium to relax muscles and induce sleep. Other good choices include milk, tryptophan-rich bananas, and oatmeal, which contains calcium and magnesium.
- Choose complex carbs and skip simple ones. Sugary foods and simple carbohydrates that turn quickly into sugar in the bloodstream, like white bread, rice and pasta, all reduce serotonin levels in the body and interfere with sleep. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread and cereal, help the brain absorb tryptophan and help make you drowsy.
- Swap alcohol for tea before bed. Alcohol may help you sleep but it can also increase the amount of times you wake up. It also interferes with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is the most important for rest. Instead, brew a cup of chamomile or peppermint tea.
- Pick heart-healthy fats, avoid the saturated kind. Choosing unsaturated fats, such as nuts or nut butters, are good for heart health and help boost serotonin levels. The saturated fats found in fast foods actually reduce serotonin levels.
- Add fresh herbs to your favorite dishes. Herbs like sage and basil contain compounds that help you relax. Add them to your own homemade tomato sauce (which is typically lower in sugar than store-bought) to sleep easier.