We all sleep, and we’ve all struggled at one time or another with difficulty falling asleep, staying alert, or with disruption of our regular sleeping patterns.
There is a whole host of tips out there for overcoming sleep problems, but one of the easiest – and most beneficial – ways of improving your sleeping patterns and quality is to eat foods that naturally assist your body in regulating your circadian rhythms.
Consider the following foods, the effects they can have on the quality of your sleep, and then apply this new knowledge to your daily diet – both what you eat and when you eat it – and you should see some significant improvements to any sleeping troubles you may be experiencing.
Best Foods for Sleep
Foods that are known to help people sleep contain one or more of four important substances: tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6. Some of these help in the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the circadian rhythms that make us sleepy and alert at the proper times.
Melatonin is produced in your pituitary gland and naturally increases in your system near bedtime, so eating foods that promote melatonin production later in the day will help you fall asleep. There are also supplements that include melatonin, and if you are suffering from a decrease in naturally-produced melatonin – a common malady as people move through middle age and beyond – a supplement taken a little while before you plan to fall asleep can be a great help. Be sure to allow for around eight hours of uninterrupted sleep time though – don’t take melatonin if you know you’re only going to get a few hours before it’s time to wake up. Doing otherwise will only mean you’ll feel tired after waking.
It’s also worth noting that melatonin isn’t addictive. It’s not a sleeping pill; it’s just a little boost of a substance your brain is making anyway, so it is quite safe. Nonetheless, any supplement can interact with other medications or conditions, so be sure to inform your doctor if you are planning to start taking melatonin for any reason.
Tryptophan is an amino acid. When eaten, it turns into serotonin, and then the serotonin is turned into melatonin. The best part is that you can get tryptophan from several common foods.
Meat and dairy products are a great source. Milk, yogurt, and cheese each contain substantial amounts, as does turkey and chicken, fish and seafood, especially salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines, and cod.
If you are vegetarian or even vegan, don’t worry – there are other sources available. Legumes of various kinds, like lima, black, kidney and other beans, and split peas and chickpeas are rich in tryptophan. Nuts and seeds are good too. Try flax, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts and walnuts.
Fruits and vegetables have tryptophan too. Try fruits like apples, bananas, avocadoes, and peaches, or vegetables like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, onions, and even seaweed!
Round out this varied, tryptophan-rich diet with grains like rice, wheat, oats, barley and corn – all rich in tryptophan too.
Magnesium is a mineral that is a natural relaxant. It helps to deactivate adrenaline and allow us to relax prior to and during sleep. A lack of magnesium can make falling asleep and staying asleep quite difficult.
You can get magnesium in your diet by eating leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens, or by eating fruits like bananas and avocadoes. Nuts and seeds often contain magnesium, including brazil nuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds and flax seeds. Even wheat germ has magnesium in significant amounts.
Fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut also have it, or you can get it from other vegetarian sources like soybeans and yogurt.
Calcium is also beneficial as it helps the brain make – you guessed it! – melatonin. A lack of calcium often results in sleep interruptions and late-night wakefulness.
Foods that are calcium-rich include dark leafy greens, milk and various cheeses and dairy products, sardines, soybeans, and a rich but under-appreciated calcium heavyweight: broccoli!
There are also foods fortified in calcium – like breakfast cereals, breads, and some grains – that are also good sources.
Vitamin B6 is the vitamin that helps turn tryptophan into melatonin, so it is important to include it in a healthy, sleep-friendly diet. Luckily, they are found together in many foods. The highest sources of B6 include flaxseed, sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts; fish like tuna, salmon, and halibut; chicken, pork, and beef; spinach; and fruits like bananas, avocadoes, and dried prunes.
The previous substances help your body produce melatonin, but there are foods that already contain melatonin without having to convert it from anything. Try including tart cherries, asparagus, corn, pomegranates, grapes, broccoli and cucumber to your diet. Eat grains like rice, barley and rolled oats. Walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds and flaxseed also contain melatonin.
As you may have noticed, many foods contain more than one of these four important substances, so choosing these as part of your healthy diet can ensure more than one way to keep sufficient melatonin levels in your body.
If you would prefer to supplement melatonin then we have a great range of sleep gummies with 5-htp that improve serotonin and converts it to melotonin here.
Drinks that are great for sleep
Don’t ignore what you drink, either. Valerian, peppermint, passion fruit or chamomile teas, help encourage sleep, as do almond milk and warm cow’s milk.
The Worst Foods for Sleep
There are foods and drinks that help your body keep sleep patterns in a healthy state, but there are also those that hinder healthy sleep patterns. Be sure to be mindful of these as well, so you aren’t negating the good foods with bad ones.
Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine, especially in the late afternoon and evening. They may help you get through a late day at work, but they’ll rob you of the sleep you need to recover from it and prepare for the next day.
Spicy foods can also hinder sleep, especially if they result in heartburn or acid reflux. If your system is susceptible to problems due to spicy foods, don’t eat them after lunch, or at all if you are especially sensitive to them.
Alcohol may be a surprising enemy of sleep. Though it can relax you initially, and even make you feel drowsy, it often results in poorer quality of sleep and can disrupt healthy sleep cycles. It is best avoided if you have trouble sleeping.
High-fat foods can cause excess acid in the stomach, causing discomfort when lying down, and can alter normal sleep cycles by altering orexin production.
Protein-rich foods are time-consuming for the body to break down, so it is best to avoid protein-rich meals close to bedtime. The digestion process can hinder quality sleep. This can apply to any heavy meal, so either eat your last meal of the day some time before trying to sleep, or keep your final meal light and easy to digest. This will allow your body to focus on sleeping, when it’s time to rest.
If this doesn't work:
If, even after incorporating all of this into your regular diet, you are struggling to fall asleep and to have a satisfying, uninterrupted rest, then there may be other problems at work – you may even have a sleeping disorder. Not to worry though, your doctor will have solutions to discuss with you, and may even be impressed with your sleep-friendly diet: a great foundation to support any further efforts needed.