Eating well is not only a good way to help your mental and physical health, but it’ll keep you sleeping well, too. Knowing what food you should, and shouldn’t, eat can help you make sure that you’re enjoying a good sleep. Read this article for a break-down of what foods help you sleep, and what foods you should avoid.

What’s the Best Food for Sleep?

Foods that are rich in tryptophan, carbohydrates, calcium, magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B6 will promote quality sleep.1

Tryptophan-rich Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body produce the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin induces a deeper and more restful sleep by creating melatonin, the hormone that dictates your sleep-wake cycle. Foods rich in tryptophan include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Beans

These foods are also rich in protein. Protein-rich foods offer additional benefits, such as reducing appetite and hunger, reducing any cravings and desire for late-night snacking, boosting your metabolism and increasing fat burning. They also help to maintain weight loss.2

Carbohydrate-rich Foods

Food that is rich in carbohydrates help people to sleep, especially when eaten at dinnertime. This is because carbohydrate-rich foods also include tryptophan. Carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Rice
  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Ice Cream
  • Potatoes

Calcium-rich Foods

Calcium-rich food will also help you sleep. This is because calcium also helps the brain to use tryptophan, and is linked directly to our sleep cycle.3 Calcium isn’t restricted to dairy products, and can be found in:

  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Kale
  • Leafy greens, including broccoli and cabbage
  • Tofu
  • Sardines

In a study published by the European Neurology Journal, researchers reported increased levels of calcium during REM sleep. They concluded that disturbed REM sleep was more likely to occur when there was a calcium deficiency, since undisturbed sleep was regained after calcium levels returned to normal.4

Magnesium-rich Foods

Maintaining normal levels of magnesium can also help you sleep through the night. A study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that low levels of magnesium can disrupt sleep5. This is because magnesium maintains healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, to support a deep, restorative sleep.6 Foods rich in magnesium include:

  • Whole grains, especially bulgur and barley
  • Almonds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Seeds
  • Salmon
  • Bananas
  • Leafy greens

Melatonin-rich Foods

Melatonin is a hormone that signals to your body when it’s time to fall asleep, and when it’s time to be awake. It works with your circadian rhythm, or inner body clock, to work out your sleep-wake cycle. If the production of melatonin is harmed or limited, then you will struggle to get to sleep. Therefore, melatonin is key to a good snooze. Melatonin is naturally produced by your body, but it can also be found in food, such as:

  • Cherries
  • Walnuts
  • Bananas
  • Oats
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Broccoli
  • Rice

Vitamin B6-rich Foods

Vitamin B6 helps your body to create neurotransmitters. These chemicals promote good sleep quality by helping your body to produce melatonin.7 Vitamin B6 is commonly found in:

  • Fish – particularly salmon, tuna, and halibut
  • Raw garlic
  • Pistachio nuts
  • Bananas
  • Chickpeas

What’s the Worst Food for Sleep?

If you want to get a good sleep, it would be good to avoid spicy foods, overly fatty foods, and sugary junk foods.8 It’s best to avoid these foods at dinnertime.

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods could disrupt your sleep. The capsaicin in child peppers and other spicy food can increase your internal body temperature, which needs to be lower in order for you to have a restful sleep. Spicy foods also tend to have higher fat levels, and these require more time for your body to process. If you eat spicy food too close to bedtime, your body expends energy in digestion instead of helping your brain fall asleep.9

Overly Fatty Foods

Fatty foods have been shown to disrupt sleep and upset your circadian rhythm. As a result, you might find yourself sleeping during the day and getting hungrier at night. Columbia University researchers found that people with a diet that’s low in fibre and high in saturated fat are more likely to experience lighter sleep and more night-time awakenings.10

Sugary and Junk Foods

Sugary desserts and junk food are incredibly tempting, but they’re also infamous for causing weight gain. They’re unhealthy at any time of the day, but they can be especially dangerous at night-time. This is because they can trigger late-night cravings and higher calorie-intake than your body actually needs.11

Plus, these foods cause weight gain, which can put someone at risk of developing Sleep Apnoea. Sleep Apnoea is a breathing disorder in which someone’s breathing is briefly interrupted while they’re sleeping. This will wake them up momentarily, but the person usually goes back to sleep. While they may have no memory of waking up, their breathing can be interrupted hundreds of times a night. These frequent moments of waking can interrupt their sleep, leading to fatigue and sleep deprivation.

If someone is overweight, this increased weight can put more pressure on the airways and make it more difficult to breathe during the night. This doesn’t help your sleep quality at all, and will lead to sleep deprivation and weight gain. Avoiding sugary and junk foods means you’ll avoid gaining weight, so you’ll avoid this risk of Sleep Apnoea. Read more about Sleep Apnoea in our article here.

Insomnia and Your Diet

If you’re struggling with insomnia, make sure you avoid overly spicy, fatty, or sugary foods. Instead, eat a dinner made of foods rich in carbohydrates and tryptophan. A small snack of yoghurt or a warm glass of milk may prove relaxing and help you sleep, especially when taken regularly as part of a regular bedtime routine.12

How Late Can You Eat Before You Go to Bed?

If you want to sleep better at night, have dinner two to four hours before your bedtime. It’s not a good idea to go to bed on a full stomach. This is because it’s difficult for the rest of your body to settle down when your body is digesting food.13

Not only does food affect our sleep, but drinks can, too. Have a look at our article, ‘Five Drinks You Should Avoid Before Going to Bed‘, to find out how what you drink affects how you sleep.

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