The Best Foods to Help You Sleep

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Foods can affect sleep by helping you sleep better or worsening your sleep quality. Sleep quality refers to the measure of how well-rested you feel in the morning. People need enough hours of undisturbed shuteye for optimal rest. Good sleep quality is vital for your mental and physical health. Sleeping well is associated with better cognitive skills, more physical energy, positive emotions, and improved immune function.

Certain foods may improve your quality of sleep. These foods include kiwi, almonds, fatty fish, nuts, rice, tart cherry juice, and milk. Research suggests that some natural ingredients in these foods may help you feel tired or promote better rest.

The benefit of these foods is that they are high in nutritional value and can be a natural sleep aid. Many people experiencing insomnia prefer natural remedies for sleep compared to medications like sleeping pills. Food alone will likely not cure insomnia; You should also practice good sleep hygiene and seek treatment for underlying conditions that contribute to insomnia, such as anxiety and other sleep disorders.

1. Kiwi

Kiwi is a fruit with a bright green interior native to China. Kiwi can be consumed on its own or in other fruit dishes and recipes. Kiwi is rich in fiber, vitamin C, folate, copper, potassium, antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

A 2016 study titled Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality found that participants who had two kiwifruits an hour before bed had longer total sleep times and sleep efficiency. Sleep efficiency refers to the ratio of total sleep time to time spent in bed. Experts hypothesize that the high amount of antioxidants, serotonin, and folate found in kiwi may contribute to better sleep.

2. Almonds

Almonds are often considered nuts but are actually classified as drupes. They are oval-shaped and come from almond trees. Almonds contain melatonin, vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, fiber, and phosphorus.

Melatonin and magnesium are two particular ingredients that could help improve rest. Melatonin is a hormone that helps promote sleepiness. The body naturally releases melatonin at night as part of its 24-hour internal cycle, but consuming extra melatonin may help aid this process. Magnesium is an important mineral for bodily functions like muscles, nerves, blood sugar, blood pressure, and more. A 2011 study titled Magnesium in the Central Nervous System suggests that consuming magnesium may help relieve stress, a common culprit behind insomnia.

3. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish refers to a type of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Examples of fatty fish with these nutrients are anchovies, herring, mackerel, black cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish, striped bass, and cobia.

A 2014 study titled Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability had participants eat three salmon three times a week for five months. The participants showed an overall improvement in their sleep quality and daily functioning. Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids help regulate serotonin, which plays a role in physiological functions like energy and sleep.

4. Nuts

Nuts like walnuts and pistachios may improve sleep. Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, which is needed for the sleep process. They also contain melatonin, which promotes sleep.

A 2005 study titled Melatonin in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood found that consuming walnuts increased blood melatonin levels. Another study led by researchers from Louisiana State University found that pistachios contain upwards of 660 nanograms of melatonin per gram of pistachio. They add this amount is much higher than in other foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, and seeds.

5. Rice

Rice is a carbohydrate grain that’s popular in many international dishes. White rice has a high glycemic index.

A 2014 study titled Associations between rice, noodle, and bread intake and sleep quality in Japanese men and women found that higher rice consumption was linked to better sleep quality. However, there are dangers to consuming too much food with a high glycemic index. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these foods cause spikes in blood sugar, increasing one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

6. Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice is a beverage extracted from Montmorency – or sour – cherries. The Montmorency cherry originated in France more than four centuries ago. There are two reasons why these cherries may improve sleep. The first is that they contain the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. The second reason is that they have proanthocyanidins, which give the cherries their bright red color. Proanthocyanidins can help increase the presence of tryptophan, which converts to serotonin to promote sleep. A 2014 study titled Tart cherry juice increases sleep time in adults with insomnia found that tart cherry juice increased sleep times by up to 84 minutes.

7. Milk

Milk is a liquid produced by the mammary glands of female animals and humans to provide nourishment for babies and young animals. Many humans also consume milk from cows as part of a nutritional diet. Milk is an excellent source of important nutrients like protein, calcium, vitamins A and D, and more.

Milk also contains tryptophan, which some experts suggest may explain why milk is believed to help improve sleep. A 2020 study titled The Effects of Milk and Dairy Products on Sleep: A Systematic Review found that consuming milk as part of a well-balanced diet is linked to better sleep quality. Drinking warm milk before bed is also a well-known suggestion to help children fall asleep, and so the cognitive association alone could foster relaxation for sleep.

Illustration of a Glass of Milk on a Night Stand

What is the Importance of Food for Sleep?

Food is important to sleep because it can positively or negatively affect how well you rest. Healthy foods and beverages like kiwi, almonds, fatty fish, nuts, rice, tart cherry juice, and milk offer nutritional value that research suggests may support better sleep. A good diet can help with sleep in other ways. First, a good diet gives you more energy for exercise. Physical activity is associated with enhanced sleep quality. Second, a good diet gives you more energy throughout the day. The extra energy means you’re less likely to take daytime naps, which could throw off your sleep schedule. Third, good diets can help improve your mental health. Poor mental health is linked to worse sleep.

Conversely, eating unhealthy foods, especially late at night, could trigger digestive problems like heartburn that can keep you up at night. Sleep deprivation is linked to higher cravings for unhealthy foods, perpetuating the cycle. Eating before bed  can also harm your sleep quality because a full stomach can feel uncomfortable and cause indigestion. Going to bed on an empty stomach can be distracting as well, so experts advise having a light, healthy snack before bed instead of large meals.

Can Food be Digested while Sleeping?

Yes, you can digest food while you are sleeping. The digestive system continues to operate while you are asleep, but it moves at a slower pace because you aren’t eating or drinking. During sleep, the digestive system uses glucose consumed during the day to repair and grow tissues. However, eating too much food before bed doesn’t give the digestive system proper recovery time because it has to work harder to digest the extra food. This can result in conditions like indigestion, heartburn, or acid reflux.

Who should Eat Food for Better Sleep?

People of all ages and genders can eat foods for better sleep. A healthy diet can not only improve sleep but lower your risk for chronic health complications like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. Eating healthy foods is important for children and adults. Children need the nutrients in food to support growth and lower their risk for disease and chronic health problems. Adults require healthy food to stay active, keep a healthy weight, and reduce their risk for health issues.

Can Babies Eat Food before Sleeping?

No, babies shouldn’t eat food before sleeping. The American Sleep Association says that babies can develop a feed-sleep association where they need food to fall asleep. Experts also warn that having a baby consume formula before bed causes their digestive system to work in overdrive because it is harder to digest than regular human milk.

What are the Facts about Foods for Sleep?

The connection between certain foods for sleep is based on scientific studies. The research suggests correlations between the nutrients in these foods and how they could promote better sleep based on what’s already known about how the body works. For example, some foods contain melatonin, a natural hormone also found in the body. Health and sleep experts know that the body releases extra melatonin at night to help foster sleep. Therefore, there’s the suggestion that consuming more melatonin could further aid the body’s natural sleep process.

Are Foods Good for Fighting Insomnia?

Yes, foods can be good for fighting insomnia. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which someone experiences difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia is harmful because it can lead to sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality, negatively impacting your physical and mental health. Certain foods contain nutrients that may help you feel tired or rest better by supporting the body’s natural sleep process. For example, certain foods contain vitamin D, which supports serotonin production, and serotonin plays an important role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

What Foods Burn Fat while You Sleep?

Certain foods can help burn fat and promote sleep. The best bedtime foods for weight loss include cherries, greek yogurt, peanut butter, protein shakes, cottage cheese, turkey, bananas, chocolate milk, kefir fermented milk, almonds, high fiber cereal, and string cheese. Many of these foods, such as cottage cheese and peanut butter, contain protein, which helps build lean muscle and burn fat.

What Foods should you not Eat before Sleeping?

Certain foods can trigger digestive problems that negatively impact sleep quality. Most foods to avoid before bed are ones that can trigger acid reflux at night. The foods you shouldn’t eat before sleeping are listed below.

  1. Coffee
  2. Caffeinated tea
  3. Carbonated drinks
  4. Chocolate
  5. Peppermint
  6. Grapefruit
  7. Oranges
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Alcohol
  10. Fried foods
  11. Large late-night meals

What are the other Factors that can Improve Your Sleep Quality?

Other facts that can improve your sleep quality include good sleep hygiene and treating other underlying conditions hindering your rest. Good sleep hygiene is one of the first steps to improving sleep quality . Examples of good sleep hygiene are keeping a consistent sleep schedule, having a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom, cutting off electronics before bed, avoiding disruptive foods and beverages, and regular exercise.

Treating health issues that impair rest is also essential for good sleep quality. For those whose sleep is impaired by mental health problems, seeking treatment such as therapy can be highly beneficial. Other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea can affect sleep. You should consult with your doctor, who can do a formal examination to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder.

Editor

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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