18 foods to help you sleep that all contain the magic ingredients you need for a good night's rest.
It should be so simple to get to sleep at night. You’re tired and waiting for that moment when your lids become heavy and it’s time to snuggle up into bed and get your Z’s. Except you’re just not switching off. However, there are 18 foods to help you sleep.
It’s all in the science really. It’s thanks to a certain little amino-acid called tryptophan which can help induce sleep. It regulates your sleep patterns and helps with the production of sleepy brain-chemicals serotonin and melatonin. Our body can’t produce tryptophan itself, so we need to make sure we’re getting enough of it from the foods we eat.
We share the facts and info on when and what foods to eat to help you sleep…
Does eating food late help or hinder your sleep?
Nutritionist Rob Hobson is also the author of Art of Sleeping. He says that that while the link between diet and sleep is by no means clear cut, choosing when and what to eat will help play a part in your sleep routine, along with relaxation techniques.
When it comes to eating in the evening, Rob suggests having dinner 2 to 3 hours before bed if you suffer from indigestion.
‘The condition is normally the result of inflammation in the stomach caused by excess stomach acid and it can easily interrupt sleep or make it difficult to nod off,’ says Rob. He adds that it’s best to avoid citrus fruits, coffee and tea as they all promote high acid production.
Other ways to help avoid indigestion include taking your time to eat and chewing your food properly to stimulate enzymes that aid digestion. Give fizzy drinks and chocolate a miss too as they can encourage reflux.
When it comes to liquid, drinking too much before bed can cause you to wake up in the night for a wee. Rob recommends avoiding liquid a couple of hours before bed.
This is particularly helpful if you have a weak bladder.
What happens to your body when you eat food late at night?
When you eat food late at night, your sleep could be impaired. Of course, what you’re eating will have an impact.
Sugar is one such food that can wreak havoc on your sleep. Interestingly it impacts your sleep even when you don’t eat it late at night.
‘Sugar reduces the activity of orexin cells. These stimulate parts of the brain that produce dopamine and norepinephrine, which are two hormones that keep us aroused and physically mobile,’ says Rob.
He adds that research has shown that orexin cells are sensitive to glucose levels. So, when have you high levels of glucose AKA sugar in the blood their activity is reduced and you can feel sleepy.
Feeling sleepy in the day can cause you to nap, which then impacts sleep later. Instead of sugary snacks, opt for protein-rich snacks.
Rob adds: ‘Protein for lunch can help to prevent debilitating mid-afternoon slumps in energy, which can feel more pronounced in those that suffer from sleep deprivation.’
Rob adds that planning your diet in advance is a good way to be sure you have everything in the house to whip up tasty, sleep-friendly meals.
Eating late at night can also cause indigestion and heartburn, two factors which can keep you awake at night.
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Foods that help you sleep
These foods help you sleep as they contain the magic ingredients needed for a good night’s rest.
Cherries naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin. It’s true when the fruit is in juice form too.
In fact, recent research from Louisiana State University has shown that drinking 240ml of cherry juice before going to bed could help you to sleep for an average of a whopping 84 minutes longer! It turns out that the juice was found to prevent the build-up of brain chemicals that are linked to poor sleep.
It might not be your usual choice of drink, but at around £1 per carton from most supermarkets, it’s worth giving the natural insomnia remedy a try. Want cherry juice on the go? Try Healthspan Elite Performance Cherry (£39.99 for 30 sachets, healthspan.co.uk) which, when mixed with water provides a delicious, sleep inducing drink!
Sleep expert Sammy Margo explains: ‘Grains in oatmeal trigger insulin production and raise your blood sugar naturally. Oats are also rich in melatonin.’
Don’t fancy porridge before you hit the sheets? Try oatcakes, topped with a little cottage cheese or Philly (cheese contains tryptophan, a sleep-boosting amino acid). You’ll quickly be on the snooze train to Slumberville.
Coconut water has long been on the health food radar for its nutritional benefits. However, we had no idea that it could be the answer to our sleep problems too!
‘Coconut water is an excellent source of “electrolyte” minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium,’ explains nutritionist Cassandra Barnes. ‘Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body. Deficiencies or imbalances may cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep.’
Try drinking coconut water in the evening, an hour or two before you head to bed. ‘Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best,’ Cassandra adds.
We know bananas are good for us. But we bet you hadn’t thought about eating the peel before…
Okay, so it might not taste fantastic, but banana skins contain loads of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and fibre, as well as a healthy dose of tryptophan.
‘The skins of most fruits and vegetables contain the richest sources of vitamins and minerals as they are affected by the light during growth, acting to absorb the light and protect the fruit,’ British Dietetic Association spokeperson and founder of Honest Nutrition Anna Daniels explained to Metro.co.uk.
If you don’t fancy munching on a raw peel (and we can’t say we’d blame you), apparently you can get the same benefits from boiling up a cup of banana peel tea, or blending the skins into a smoothie.
Marmite fans, rejoice! Apparently this is a food that can help you sleep.
Rob explains: ‘If you ‘love it’ then here is one more reason why marmite might be good for you. The salty spread has been shown to help increase levels of GABA in the brain. This is a neurotransmitter that inhibits the excitability of neurons in the brain so effectively turning them down which may help to dampen down the anxiety that contributes to poor sleep.’
Chicken noodle broth
Meats like beef, pork and shellfish, but particularly poultry like chicken and turkey, all contain a generous amount of our little amino-acid sleep friend, tryptophan. This may explain why it’s so hard to stay awake after a Christmas dinner.
Rob explains that this tryptophan is then converted to melatonin at night which is the hormone that helps to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
‘You can boost your uptake of tryptophan into the brain by teaming with a carbohydrate food such as rice,’ he adds.
‘While there is nothing in honey that helps with sleep, adding it to certain foods may help,’ says Rob.
He adds that honey contains sugar which can assist with the uptake of tryptophan into the brain.
‘You may want to add a little honey to a bowl of hot oats as a bedtime snack. This action even gives credence to the old wives tale that warm milk and honey helps you to sleep (milk is a source of tryptophan).’
Ahh those trusty eggs. They’re great for lots of things. But they’re an important addition to the foods that help you sleep.
Rob explains that eggs are a source of many B vitamins including B6. ‘This vitamin is used by the body to make the sleep hormone melatonin.’
He adds that scrambled egg made with milk is good for a simple and light evening meal. Plus, it’s loaded with vitamin B6 and calcium which is used to convert tryptophan into melatonin.
Caffeinated tea is an absolute no-no, for pretty obvious reasons. In fact, there’s not much worse you can do than have a tea or coffee before bed. But herbal teas are an exception to the rule.
Camomile tea, for example, has a natural sedative effect.
This meaty fish is loaded with protein which can help to regulate blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer after eating.
‘This makes for a great evening meal with a plate full of veggies. Hunger and blood sugar lows can wake some people up during the night and especially those with type 2 diabetes,’ says Rob.
Yes, really. Elk is possibly one of the best tryptophan-rich meats. Perhaps not your local butcher’s cut of the day, but one to look out for. One day. Possibly…
Cheese and crackers
An excuse to eat cheese and biscuits before we go to bed? We’ll take it. Cheese, and dairy products in general, are full of that all important sleep-producing amino acid.
And all that about cheese before bed giving you weird dreams? Well apparently, while it may not give you ‘weird’ dreams, a study by The British Cheeseboard showed that it can make your dreams more vivid, particularly for Stilton eaters!
Drinking a warm glass of milk before bed is probably one of the oldest tricks in the book for nodding off to sleep. And while it’s full of the essential amino-acid tryptophan, it’s thought that there might be more than just biology behind why this helps to soothe you into slumber.
It could provoke memories of sleep in childhood, if your parents used to give you a comforting glass of milk before bedtime, or it could stem even as far back as when you were a baby.
Malt drinks like Horlicks have been hailed as a night-time drink for years. We’ve already explained why milk is good for helping us to sleep, but there’s certainly something about the malt taste of this drink that aids us even further into the land of nod.
It’s also thought that the drink helps to stave off hunger overnight, therefore giving you a pleasant night, all round.
Yogurt and banana
Being a dairy product, yogurt is full of tryptophan. And the banana’s not just good for sweetening up your yogurt. This comforting fruit contains high levels of magnesium and potassium, both of which relax our muscles and therefore help us to loosen up and unwind.
These lovely green leaves contain tryptophan, that helpful sleep nutrient. Plus they contain vitamin B6, for a restful sleep.
Nuts and seeds
A lack of magnesium in the body can make it particularly hard for people to stay asleep. We’re sure there are plenty of you out there who have frustratingly woken up in the middle of the night at a complete loss as to why.
Nuts and seeds are high in magnesium. Get snacking on them a little while before bed and see if it makes a difference to your sleep.
Cherries naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin, the hormone which is crucial for your sleep-wake cycle.
Recent research has shown the benefits of cherry juice for helping sleep. Participents who drank a glass of cherry juice twice a day, once in the morning, and once before bed, were able to sleep around an hour longer (on average 84 minutes) compared to those that drank a placebo. The research is thought to be particularly helpful to older adults who are more likely to suffer from insomnia.