There’s no beating around the bush. Getting a good night’s sleep is critically important to your overall health and function. In fact, studies show that getting a good rest may reduce your risk of developing certain illnesses, keep your brain working at optimum performance and help you avoid stress, but there’s more to a good sleep than just a comfy bed. When it comes to health, diet is crucial and knowing the foods that help you sleep better is a great place to start. After all, there are plenty of foods to help sleep, some are just better than others.
Why Sleep is Important
While you might be pushing yourself hard in the gym, studies show that what you do while you’re horizontal is just as important. A good night’s sleep can make you feel rested and significantly improve your quality of life, but there are other factors to watch out for.
First and foremost, sleep duration has strong links to weight gain. According to a study by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, children and adults with short sleep duration were 89 per cent and 55 per cent more likely to develop obesity. This is due to the role sleep plays in our hormonal balance, exercise motivation and overall mood.
If you’ve ever had a big night and attempted to run at full capacity, you would have found your concentration waning. Sleep is critical to brain function, influencing cognition, concentration, productivity and performance. Short sleep has been found to can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication.
Reduced Illness Risk
Another benefit of quality sleep is reduced illness risk. Studies show that poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke, so it pays to get those Zs in where you can.
How Food Impacts Sleep
When it comes to foods that help you sleep, it seems everyone has an opinion on the matter. But science has proved time and time again that there are a few main foods that make you sleepy, and it has a lot to do with nutrients.
There is a strong connection between sleep and how we metabolise food. Our diet and food choices help regulate our circadian rhythm, the roughly 24-hour cycle that our body follows each day. In this instance, shifting our eating patterns or altering what we eat drastically can actually throw our body clock out of rhythm. Eating poorly, particularly in the hours before bed can disrupt the quality of sleep you will have, so if you’re looking for the best foods to help sleep, steer clear of the caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
Carbs Before Bed
Further to that, we all have a friend who loves to spruik their ‘no carbs before bed’ diet to us. While the reduction of carbohydrates immediately prior to sleep is encouraged, it’s not necessary to remove the macronutrient from your nighttime eating plan altogether. Instead, you should focus on complex carbohydrates and remove simple carbohydrates.
- Simple carbohydrates – This is the type of carbohydrate that we commonly associate with weight gain. High-sugar and high-energy foods that offer little nutritional value. Simple carbs include chocolate, lollies, milkshakes and ice cream. These snacks will provide you with an ill-timed energy hit, so it’s little wonder these aren’t foods that make you sleepy.
- Complex carbohydrates – Carbs get a bad wrap in terms of foods that help you sleep, but complex carbohydrates can actually help. A moderate intake of starchy carbs, such as potato and squash, along with fibrous carbs like kale can help regulate your sleeping pattern. Additionally, foods that have natural sugars, such as fruit can be enjoyed before bed, but in moderation.
Best Foods to Help Sleep
What you eat is undoubtedly a big factor in how you sleep. We’ve all had a big greasy burger before bed and struggled to get a good rest, it’s not supernatural. Your intake of nutrients is directly linked to your sleeping pattern. Adding extra macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) can throw your body clock into disorder. If you really want to get a good night’s sleep, you need to find the foods that make you sleepy.
Here is a list of 10 foods that help you sleep.
As we mentioned above, foods that have natural sugars can actually be a positive influence before bed. Bananas, for example, house a wealth of important nutrients that promote better rest. “Bananas are super rich in magnesium, which is shown in clinical studies to reduce anxiety – one of the leading causes of sleeplessness – by 31 per cent,” Sydney-based sleep expert, Olivia Arezzolo says. “Bananas are also great for sleep because they help the body synthesise serotonin. As a calming hormone, this is a great remedy against stress – the number one factor impairing sleep for Australian’s according to a 2017 nationwide survey.”
There’s a great number of reasons you should be eating the fruit, not the least of which being that Australian Bananas are among the world’s best. Rich in potassium and Vitamin B-6, bananas aren’t just one the best foods for sleep, they are packed with added health benefits. According to further academic research, bananas also support the production of sleepiness hormone melatonin – a prime factor in the initiation of sleep. “Because of this, those struggling to fall asleep will find it the perfect before-bed snack,” Arezzolo says.
You might not know it, but nuts are among the best foods for good sleep and it has a lot to do with fat content. Almonds, in particular, are rich in healthy fats, which your body needs to metabolise other aspects of your diet. “Specifically, almonds and walnuts contain melatonin, a hormone that helps to synchronise your sleep cycle,” Arezzolo says. “Nuts can increase your blood levels of the hormone; therefore, help you sleep more soundly.”
3. Chamomile Tea
There is a reason why so many of us grab a cuppa before bed. When it comes to drinks and foods that make you sleepy, you can’t really go past chamomile tea. “Chamomile tea has been used as a natural remedy for years to reduce inflammation, anxiety and treat insomnia,” Arezzolo says. “Studies show its calming properties are likely linked to an antioxidant called apigenin – similarly to sleeping pills, this activates GABA neurotransmitters; helping you feel more relaxed and sleep easier.” Unlike sleeping pills, however, chamomile is a natural substance which can be taken long term – by old and young.
4. Hemp Milk
While this isn’t exactly one you can simply reach into the fridge for, hemp milk is becoming more commonly found, and for good reason. “There is a possible link to show the psychological side of enjoying a warm milk as a child for people induces a state of sleepiness,” Arezzolo says. “Hemp milk is a great plant-based alternative to dairy and is used by many to improve anxiety, stress, and induce sleepiness.” So, if you’re looking for foods that help you sleep, it might be worth forgoing the full-cream in search of something a little more exotic.
5. Cottage Cheese
It certainly isn’t one for everyone, but cottage cheese has all the elements of a quality bedtime snack. Specifically, foods that are high in lean protein, like cottage cheese, also pack the amino acid tryptophan. This amino aid may increase serotonin levels, reducing the risk of insomnia. To sweeten it up, top the cottage cheese with raspberries, which are rich sources of melatonin.
There are a few factors that the best foods for sleep all have in common and one of them is melatonin. A naturally produced hormone, melatonin helps you fall asleep by calming the body before bed. Certain fruits that contain melatonin may help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. These include;
- Tart cherry juice
Other fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants may have a similar effect as well. Certain berries can help to counteract the oxidative stress caused by a sleep disorder, making them some of the best foods to help sleep.
There’s nothing like tucking into a whole turkey before bed. Delicious and nutritious, turkey is an extremely lean white protein that is naturally nutrient-dense. Rich in riboflavin, phosphorus and selenium, turkey is great for overall health, however, much like cottage cheese, it also houses the amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid increases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Turns out there is a scientific reason why you can’t stay awake after Christmas dinner.
Another low-calorie but nutrient-dense fruit, kiwi is loaded with vitamins. In fact, one medium kiwi fruit contains 117 per cent of your daily Vitamin C needs and nearly 40 per cent of your Vitamin K needs. Additionally, the fruit also offers a fair amount of folate and potassium, as well as several trace minerals.
Studies have shown that eating two kiwi fruits one hour before bedtime might help you get to sleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. Participants who followed this rule fell asleep 35.4 per cent faster than those who ate a regular diet, proving that this fuzzy fruit is high on the list of foods that help you sleep.
9. Fatty Fish
We’ve known for a long time that fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel is incredibly good for you. What you might not have known, however, is that they are also foods that make you sleepy. Rich in Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, these fish can reduce inflammation and potentially protect against heart disease. Additionally, the nutrient-rich food has also been linked with improved brain function.
This combination of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D has the potential to enhance sleep quality. Both have been shown to increase the production of serotonin, a sleep-promoting brain chemical. Eating a few ounces of fatty fish before bed may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
Much like the almonds before, walnuts are among the best foods to help you sleep. Rich in melatonin, walnuts can help regulate your sleeping pattern and improve the quality of your rest. “Specifically, nuts are high in omega 3’s: shown in clinical trials to support sleep quality and minimise night time waking,” Arezzolo says. “So, for those finding themselves rousing abruptly around that 3am mark, a handful of walnuts, alongside a banana, is your best go-to for a sleep-friendly snack.”
Which foods will help you sleep?
There are many foods that can help promote healthy sleep. Foods like almonds and bananas provide important nutrients like magnesium which have been proven to reduce stress.
Is it wrong to eat carbs before bed?
Eating carbohydrates before bed is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it is important that you stay away from simple carbs and those foods high in sugar. Instead, opt for nutrient dense and fibrous carbs before bed.
What foods are high in melatonin?
Melatonin can be found in lots of foods, such as eggs and fish. Certain plant-based foods like nuts also contain high melatonin concentration.