If you are looking to improve your sleep quality, then don’t just focus on your mattress. In order to improve your sleep, you need to focus on your diet. Just like certain foods and nutrients can have a negative impact on sleep, choosing the right foods and nutrients can improve symptoms of insomnia. In this article, I will be sharing the top 5 foods that help you sleep along with when and how to eat them.
Can sleep improve your health?
Did you know that the #1 most important thing you can do for improved health is to get quality sleep every night? When you don’t get enough sleep, or the quality of sleep is poor, it can have a dramatic impact on health. Lack of sleep impacts appetite regulation (one study found we eat 554 MORE calories after a night of poor sleep!), weight gain, slowed metabolism, increased blood pressure and insulin resistance….and the list goes on. So if you have a goal to improve your eating habit, exercise more, or lose weight…it won’t happen unless you first tackle your sleep issues.
In order to improve sleep, you have to focus on a few things. Sleep hygiene is important. This means setting yourself up with a regular sleep schedule: go to bed the same time each night, wake up the same time each day…you get the point. It also includes focusing on behaviors that help to improve sleep. For instance, avoiding stimulating activity such as intensive exercise right before bed can help. And so can reducing exposure to blue light before laying down (so stop scrolling through your phone catching up on your Instagram feed right before you go to sleep).
Yes, sleep hygiene is important. But it isn’t the only thing to focus on when trying to sleep better. Just as important…. or possibly even more important…is focusing on your nutrition and eating foods that can help you to sleep better.
What are the best foods for sleep?
Want to know the best foods to help you sleep? You are in the right place. When it comes to selecting the best foods for sleep, there are a few nutrients to look at. Nutrients that help to relax the body and reduce stimulating stress hormones can aid in helping you to fall asleep more quickly. Other foods can be a source of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin which is responsible in helping to regulate your circadian rhythms and sleep cycle. And dietary choices can also support the body’s ability to further produce melatonin. Combining these foods into your diet at the right times can help to significantly improve sleep quality and quantity, whether you suffer from insomnia or just want to feel more well-rested each day.
The Top 5 Foods That Help You Sleep
Wondering what foods can help you sleep better? Although many foods can benefit sleep in a variety of ways, these five foods are the best options to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Keep reading to learn why these foods help you sleep better and how to incorporate them into your meal plan.
Number one of the list of the top 5 foods that help you sleep better is tart cherries. These are different than your typical sweet cherries that you find in season in the summer. Tart cherries have a sour flavor and can typically be found as 100% tart cherry juice or as dried tart cherries.
Because of their above average concentrations of melatonin -the hormone that is responsible for healthy sleep – this fruit has been found to improve sleep. One study found when individuals drank two 8 ounce glasses of tart cherry juice per day, both sleep time and sleep quality improved. In fact, drinking tart cherry juice in the evening has been shown to increase sleep time by as much as 90 minutes in those who suffer from insomnia.
Yogurt is another food that may aid sleep thanks to two key nutrients: the amino acid tryptophan and the mineral calcium. Tryptophan is an amino acid that has been shown to have a calming and relaxing effect in the body. On top of that, this amino acid gets converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin which then gets converted into the hormone melatonin.
In addition, calcium helps the brain produce melatonin. In fact, a lack of calcium in the diet has been shown to lead to sleep struggles such as waking up in the middle of the night and have difficulty returning to sleep. Whereas calcium rich diets have been shown to improve symptoms of insomnia. This same combination is also found in dairy milk which can be used as a sleep enhancing food as well.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium which is a mineral that plays an instrumental role in sleep. Magnesium is a natural relaxant in the body and helps to deactivate the stress hormone adrenaline which acts as a stimulant and can keep you awake. It has been found that diets lacking in magnesium are associated with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, so adding more magnesium to your diet can play a large role in improving sleep.
If you don’t have pumpkin seeds on hand or can’t eat them, adding other food sources of magnesium throughout the day can be beneficial. These include nuts and seeds, whole grains, and beans and lentils.
You may not have thought of kiwi as a nighttime snack, but you may want to consider it starting today. One study found eating two kiwis before bed allowed participants to fall asleep faster and sleep longer with better quality sleep. Although the exact reason that kiwi impacts sleep is unknown, it can’t hurt to add them to your nighttime routine to see if they help you as well.
Fatty fish like tuna and salmon may play a role helping you achieve better sleep. One study found eating fish three times per week led to improved sleep which may be due to the vitamin D and vitamin B6 found in fish.
Vitamin B6 helps convert the amino acid tryptophan into melatonin and research has found a deficiency in this vitamin is linked with poor sleep which makes sense because low B6 levels have been found to lead to lowered serotonin levels. And remember, that’s the neurotransmitter that helps the body make melatonin.
Fatty fish is also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D. And when vitamin D levels are low, this can increase the risk of sleep disturbances, reduce sleep quality, and reduce sleep duration. So eating food rich in these key nutrients may help. As an added bonus, eating fish a few times per week has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and delayed cognitive decline as we age, so the benefits of eating more fish don’t end with sleep alone.
Do I have to eat foods for better sleep at certain times?
When it comes to eating foods that help you sleep better, timing can be important. For certain foods, such as those rich in calcium and magnesium, research has found that diets lacking in these nutrients are associated with poor sleep quality and insomnia. For that reason, it makes sense that eating these foods at any time of day will benefit sleep quality. However, other foods and nutrients will provide more benefit to improving sleep when they are timed with your evening meal or snack.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps to calm and relax the body. Incorporating foods rich in tryptophan at your evening meal may help to reduce stress and calm your body so it becomes easier to drift off into sleep. Tryptophan also plays a role in the creation of melatonin in the body, so timing your intake closer to sleep may help to promote a healthy sleep cycle. Foods that contain a natural source of melatonin will best benefit sleep when consumed closer to bedtime. For instance, the research on tart cherry juice has found the biggest benefit to occur when this is consumed at night. Eating kiwifruit before bed was also found to aid sleep, whereas eating kiwi at other times of the day has not yet been shown to benefit sleep.
Is there a diet for better sleep?
Although there is no set diet for sleep, adding in the foods that help you sleep better along with reducing your intake of foods that can disrupt sleep can play a large role in helping you overcome insomnia. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine too close to bedtime (ideally you want to limit caffeine to at least 8 hours before bed) and foods that can trigger indigestion during sleep – like very acidic or spicy foods to close to bedtime – can also help to improve sleep through diet.
Will diet improve sleep disorders?
If you have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, you may be wondering if eating foods that help you sleep will have an impact on your health. Although diet alone cannot resolve sleep apnea, dietary changes can be beneficial.
For some individuals who have a higher percentage of body fat in the midsection (otherwise known as visceral fat), reducing your waist circumference through diet and exercise can help to reduce the severity of sleep apnea. Research has found that weight loss, specifically weight loss from the abdominal cavity, can be beneficial at improving the symptoms of sleep apnea. And better quality sleep can further help to reduce ‘belly fat’ or visceral fat, so it’s a win-win on both sides. If you are looking for ways diet can help to reduce belly fat, check out this article I wrote on the topic for more ideas of beneficial foods you can add to your diet.
Sleep Tips to Consider
In addition to eating more of the foods that help you sleep better, if you are serious about getting better sleep, I encourage you to focus on your sleep environment as well. In order to get a good night’s rest, you want to set the stage for sleep. Here are a few simple sleep tips to try tonight:
- Make sure you are sleeping in a dark room with minimal sounds and distractions.
- Remove all electronics from the room (or as many as you can).
- Avoid looking at electronics and screens that emit blue light for at least 15 minutes before bed.
- Take a few minutes before laying down to close your eyes, think peaceful thoughts, and push out the stressors of the day.
Incorporating these sleep tips along with adding more of the foods that help you sleep better into your diet can help you to improve your sleep patterns quickly and effectively.
Additional resources for better sleep
Want additional resources to help you sleep? These may help:
- If you are serious about sleeping better, join my FREE 5-Day Sleep Reset Challenge to get started on the path to better sleep
- Read my article on how to sleep better when stressed: 5 Tips to Sleep Better When Stressed
- Listen to my podcast on the Top Foods for Better Sleep
- You may enjoy the Mayo Clinic’s guide on Tips for Better Sleep
This information is not to be mistaken as medical advice. It is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Always speak to your physician and healthcare team before making any changes to your diet, lifestyle, or diabetes management plan.