Everyone knows that certain foods promote sleep. From drinking a glass of warm milk right before bed to avoiding caffeine anytime after lunch, there is plenty of advice on foods you can eat (or not eat) to get a good night’s sleep. What we put into our bodies can have significant impact on mood and behavior and the key to enjoying a restful night of sleep can be found through your stomach.
Tryptophan containing foods are first on everyone’s list of foods that make you sleepy. It stands to reason: everyone knows that turkey has tryptophan and after that third serving of sweet potato casserole (don’t judge: marshmallows and sweet potatoes are heaven!), a snoozy drowsiness sets in. Unfortunately, while turkey does contain some tryptophan, it is far from the richest source and that post meal crash is more due to your stomach full of carbohydrates than it is to the relaxing benefits of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter well-known to regulate mood. It also regulates sleep, and a whole host of other things that keep us functional human beings—basically serotonin is awesome! Eating foods rich in tryptophan is believed to increase serotonin production, which will help regulate your sleep cycle. It also functions in the production of melatonin and niacin, two more things which help regulate sleep cycles. Eat eggs, bananas, peanuts, honey, and milk for an extra hit of tryptophan.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms—it helps you sleep when you’re supposed to and feel awake when you’re not. Available in supplement form, melatonin can also be found in cherries, bananas, and citrus fruits. Eating tryptophan or calcium-rich foods can also boost melatonin production: snack on spinach, almonds, or cheese.
Magnesium and potassium are two minerals that promote muscle relaxation (and overall muscle health), which means they are great for priming your body to sleep soundly through the night. Try bananas, avocados, spinach, peanuts, and whole grains to get these.
Try to incorporate some of these foods into your dinner, or have a snack at least an hour before you go to bed—this gives them time to work and prevents a too-full stomach from keeping you awake. Select foods that are rich in protein or complex carbohydrates for extra sleepy-goodness: the longer your food takes to digest, the more stable your blood sugar remains and the less likely you are to wake up feeling hungry. Many of the above foods can provide more than one benefit, so eat more of those! Try whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana, or a salad with spinach, vegetables, and nuts. Or a handful of cherries with some slices of cheese or almonds. Try to avoid excess sugar and alcohol, which can interrupt sleep, as can very spicy foods right before bed. Why not snack your way to a better, more restful, night of sleep?