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Published on June 12, 2020

Eat Well for a Good Night's Sleep

Man stretching in bed

A good night’s sleep helps us feel our best. For many of us, though, getting that rest is sometimes problematic.

If you have occasional sleeplessness, help can be as easy as eating well, says EvergreenHealth nutritionist Marcy Dorsey, RD. “What you eat affects your body’s ability to produce serotonin,” she says.

Serotonin, along with B6, B12, and folic acid, helps calm the body and promote sleep.

Tryptophan, melatonin, calcium, and magnesium are compounds found in foods that can promote sleep as well.

In addition to eating well for good sleep, Marcy stresses that it’s important to be mindful of certain foods and behaviors that can be disruptive:

  • Eating large, high-fat, or overly spicy meals late in the day may disrupt sleep.
  • Avoid beverages after dinnertime to cut down on nighttime bathroom breaks.
  • Limit caffeine late in the day if you are sensitive to it.
  • Limit alcohol; it may make you sleepy at first, but as it wears off it can make it tough to stay asleep.

Foods for better sleep

To help you drift off to dreamland easily, Marcy recommends a light dinner and an evening snack containing one or a combination of these foods that help you sleep:

Tart cherries or cherry juice. Cherries are one of the only food sources of melatonin, a chemical that helps regulate your body clock.

Researchers found that drinking a glass of tart cherry juice (which contains less sugar than regular) or eating fresh, frozen or dried cherries about an hour before bedtime helped with insomnia.

Grapes also contain melatonin but in a lesser concentration.

Bananas. They contain potassium and magnesium, which help to relax your muscles.

They also contain Vitamin B6 and tryptophan, which convert to the hormone melatonin and the amino acid serotonin, both of which help to relax your brain.

Kale. Calcium can help you produce sleep hormones and leafy greens such as kale are great sources of calcium.

If you crave a salty snack close to bedtime, try kale chips.

Chickpeas. These also contain B6 to help with melatonin and serotonin production; they are a great vegetarian source of melatonin.

They are also a good source of fiber, which can help keep you full longer, so you don’t wake overnight from hunger.

For a great sleep-inducing combination, try our Indian-Spiced Kale and Chickpeas recipe, below.

Nuts. Nuts help boost serotonin levels and are a good source of tryptophan and magnesium. Their protein helps keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Almonds contain high levels of magnesium, while walnuts are high in tryptophan. A handful of nuts makes an easy bedtime snack.

Dairy. Warm milk really can help you sleep! The calcium in dairy helps your brain make melatonin and aids in relaxation.

The tryptophan it contains makes you sleepy, while its protein helps keep you satisfied. Researchers recommend combining your dairy with a whole grain carbohydrate to make it more effective in promoting sleep. Try some yogurt mixed with whole-grain granola for a sweet snack.

Lean protein. Turkey is known for containing tryptophan, the chemical that makes you nod off after Thanksgiving dinner. All poultry contains tryptophan, however, so a slice of chicken works just as well as a bedtime snack.

Most fish contains Vitamin B6, which aids melatonin production. Try a little tuna salad or smoked salmon on whole-grain crackers for a protein- and B6-rich evening snack.

Whole grains. Many grains are high in magnesium, which helps you relax your muscles, making it easier to fall asleep.

Fortified cereals contain Vitamin B6 to help melatonin production. Combine a whole-grain, low-sugar cereal with a little low-fat milk and sliced banana for a super sleep-inducing bedtime snack.

Oatmeal is another great grain choice, because it contains magnesium, calcium, potassium, B6, and melatonin to promote sleep, plus it is warm and comforting. Just go easy on the sweeteners in your oatmeal and try it with sleep-promoting bananas or cherries instead.

In addition to containing sleep-promoting compounds, carbohydrate-rich foods cause a spike in blood sugar, triggering insulin production and a release of the sleep chemicals serotonin and tryptophan. Carbohydrate intake should be monitored, Marcy advises, if you have diabetes or a pre-diabetic condition.

Marcy suggests a bedtime snack combining one or two of these sleep-inducing foods: a banana with low-fat yogurt, nut butter on whole-grain crackers, or an apple and a piece of cheese.

With these sleep-inducing food choices, it’s easy to eat right for better sleep.


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