10 Foods That Can Help You Sleep
By Sarah Jio
Trying to get more shut-eye? Take a look at your diet. Eating the right foods in the hours before you hit the hay may help you fall asleep faster, say experts, and even improve the quality of your sleep. Keep reading for your get-sleepy grocery list, and remember to stop noshing two hours before bedtime to give your body enough time to properly digest.
“Almonds are a winner,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, and author of the bestselling book From Fatigued to Fantastic! “They contain magnesium which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation,” he says. “And they have the added benefit of supplying proteins that can help maintain a stable blood sugar level while sleeping, and help promote sleep by switching you from your alert adrenaline cycle to your rest-and-digest cycle.” Try this bedtime snack: Have a tablespoon of almond butter or a 1-ounce portion of almonds to help your body relax.
Yes, avoiding all caffeine in the evening hours is key, but some decaf varieties can help get you into sleep mode, says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Chamomile tea is a very helpful and safe sleep aid,” he says, adding that green tea is another good choice. “Green tea contains theanine, which helps promote sleep. Just be sure you get a decaf green tea if drinking it at bedtime.” Experts recommend trying a 1-cup serving of the hot stuff.
You love to order this comforting, broth-based soup in Japanese restaurants, but keeping a few 8-ounce packs of instant miso soup at home may be key when you’re having trouble falling asleep, says Stella Metsovas, CN, a nutritionist in Laguna Beach, California. Here’s why: Miso contains amino acids that may boost the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that can help induce the yawns. Bonus: Research shows that warm liquids like soup and tea may also relieve cold symptoms, helping you sleep better when you're feeling under the weather.
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Worried about falling asleep tonight? Have a banana before bed, says Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, an internist and the author of Set Free to Live Free: Breaking Through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves. “Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium and potassium, which help to relax overstressed muscles. They also contain tryptophan, which convert to serotonin and melatonin, the brain’s key calming hormones." Try this tasty and incredibly simple bedtime smoothie: Blend one banana with one cup of milk or soy milk (and ice, if desired). Pour and enjoy!
Yogurt, milk and cheese do contain tryptophan, notes Dr. Dalton-Smith, but also have a surprising sleep-inducing nutrient: “Calcium is effective in stress reduction and stabilization of nerve fibers, including those in the brain." That means a serving of your favorite Greek yogurt before bed can not only help you sleep, but also help you stop worrying about the weird thing your boss said earlier at work.
You eat it for breakfast, but could a bowl of warm oatmeal help you get more rest? Yes, says Stephan Dorlandt, a clinical nutritionist based in Southern California. “Think about it,” he says. “Oatmeal is warm,soft, soothing, easy to prepare, inexpensive and nourishing. It’s rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and potassium—the who's who of nutrients known to support sleep.” But go easy on the sweeteners; too much sugar before bed can have an anti-calming effect. Instead, consider topping your bowl with fruit, like bananas (see above).
If you have trouble staying asleep at night, it may be because you didn’t eat a pre-bedtime snack high in protein, or perhaps your snack was too high in simple, high-sugar carbohydrates, like cake and candy. “The problem with simple carbs is that they can put you on a ‘sugar roller coaster’ and drop your blood sugar while you're sleeping, causing you to wake at 2 or 3 in the morning,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. A better bet? “Eat an egg, cheese, nuts or other protein-rich snack instead,” he says, “so you can not only fall asleep, but stay asleep.”
Craving a salty snack before bed? Turn to lightly salted edamame, says Dr. Dalton-Smith—especially if you’re dealing with menopause-related symptoms. “The natural estrogen-like compounds found in soy-based products can be very beneficial in controlling those nighttime hot flashes that can disturb your sleep,” she says. If it’s crackers and dip you’re craving, try making this easy edamame recipe: In a food processor, blend together 2 cups of shelled, cooked edamame with 1 tsp salt, a drizzle of olive oil and 1 clove garlic (optional) until smooth.
Oddly, a glass of cherry juice may be an effective way to fall asleep faster, says a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester. In their study, they found that cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boosted the body’s supply of melatonin, which helped people with insomnia. While the jury is still out on how much juice or how many cherries are needed to make you sleepy, experts say sipping a glass of cherry juice (available at most natural foods stores) or having a serving of fresh, frozen or dried cherries before bedtime couldn’t hurt.
There’s no need to feel guilty about having a small bowl of cereal before bed, especially if it’s a low-sugar, whole-grain cereal. Not only is it a healthy snack (make sure you top it with milk to give your body the protein it needs), but it may also help you snooze. “Complex carbohydrate–rich foods increase the availability of tryptophan in the bloodstream, increasing the sleep-inducing effects,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. Bonus: Top your bowl with a sprinkling of dried cherries (see above) for extra help catching your zzz's.