Sleep is a necessity in life, so too is food and drink. All three share an intimate relationship with our bodies; without them, we could not survive. But what we put into our body, and when, can have huge effects on how we catch those zzz’s at night.
If you are having trouble getting to bed at night, what’s in your stomach could be the culprit. The food you consume a few hours, or minutes, before hopping under the covers and turning off the lights can significantly affect the quality and quantity of your sleep.
With so many different proteins, carbohydrates, dairy, and fruit and vegetables widely available to us on any given day, it can feel overwhelming to know what to put into your body and when. This list can help you avoid foods that increase alertness, such as high protein and high fat food, and focus on the foods that enhance relaxation and those sleepy feelings.
The Best Foods to Eat Before Bedtime
The best foods for sleep will contain natural substances that trigger drowsiness, such as the amino acid tryptophan, folate, and magnesium. Foods rich in seratonin and melatonin, two important hormones that help regulate our sleep-wake cycle, should be your go to bedtime snack.
This delicious green fruit is not only rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, and vitamins C and E but also contains serotonin and folate. Insomnia has been linked to folate deficiency, by eating foods rich in folate, it can help treat this sleep disorder. One study shows that routinely eating a kiwi or two before bed can cut the time it takes to fall asleep by a third!
Almost all types of white rice are sleep-inducing foods; however, Jasmine rice is the supreme winner in that category. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that this carbohydrate has a high glycemic index- which is a powerful trigger in the production of serotonin. Including any white rice, but jasmine especially, to your dinner can dramatically cut down the time it takes to fall asleep.
This leafy green always shows up on health food lists because it is jam-packed with nutrients and essential vitamins. Spinach is an excellent source of tryptophan, folate, magnesium, and vitamins B6 and C- all crucial elements in sleep. It is best to eat spinach raw, especially at night, as heat breaks down the glutamine and vitamins held within. Either consume this superfood in a salad or blended in a fruit smoothie.
Cherries are one of the only natural foods that contain melatonin- that handy hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle- and as such, should be a go-to snack before bed. One study found that drinking tart cherry juice in the morning upon waking, and an hour before sleeping can help people who have insomnia achieve more sleep! On top of that, this super fruit has a whole slew of other health benefits.
Almonds are one of the top types of nuts that can help induce a sense of sleepiness at night. They are packed with magnesium- a muscle-relaxing mineral- and calcium, which aids the brain in converting the amino acid tryptophan into melatonin- that lovely sleep hormone. So if you are feeling peckish before bed, but don’t want to go to sleep hungry or overly full, a handful of (unsalted) almonds will fix that problem!
Salmon offers individuals a super sleepy combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Both can enhance sleep by increasing the production of serotonin. This pink fish also contains the sleep-enhancing amino acid, tryptophan! If you don’t like salmon, no worries, tuna, trout, mackerel and other fatty fishes will do just the trick too! Fish consumption not only positively impacts sleep but also promotes better body function.
This yellow fruit is the perfect nighttime snack as it contains potassium and magnesium- both of which are natural muscle-relaxant substances. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin and contains the amino acid tryptophan. Pair with greek yoghurt to get double the dose of tryptophan and the carbs from the banana help to absorb more of this essential amino acid.
For those watching their waistline and thinking it’s a good idea to go to bed hungry, think again! Instead of avoiding food hours before bedtime, consider having a bowl of cottage cheese. This dairy product is rich in tryptophan, with protein and calcium and is linked to a reduction in fat accumulation. So this cold dish can help induce sleep and will keep you from waking up in the middle of the night, starving.
Sweet potatoes are rich in both potassium and magnesium, and contain a substantial amount of vitamin B6, creating a perfect combination of sleep-inducing effects. This yummy potato is also a complex carbohydrate, meaning that eating one before bed will give your body energy throughout the night so a grumbling stomach won’t wake you up before the sound of your alarm.
The food that makes you think of that after-dinner Thanksgiving coma. Turkey contains tryptophan, so just three ounces of lean turkey meat can help induce a good night’s sleep. However, if you possess an acute sleep disorder, then turkey won’t provide as much as a relaxant as other foods on this list. Still, it’s delicious and a push in the right direction when it comes to pre-bedtime snacking.
The Worst Foods to Eat Before Bedtime
You know the ones that look like small trees- broccoli, cauliflower, and bean sprouts – these veggies are best consumed in an early dinner, say before 6 pm. These highly fibrous vegetables are much harder to digest, especially when eaten raw, causing the body to stay awake while breaking down this food. They also contain indigestible sugars, which can cause bloating and gas, not a comfortable feeling to have when curled up under the covers.
Biting into a juicy steak can be such a satisfying feeling for some, but unfortunately, all that red meat pre-bedtime is not so pleasing to the body. Consuming high-protein dinners before bed can lead to sleep disturbances throughout the night. There is no sleep-inducing sustenance in this type of food, so it’s best to save red meat for an early dinner time.
There is a reason why dried fruit always shows up in trail mixes- dehydrated fruit is small in size but high in fibre and condensed sugars. This snack is perfect for putting some pep back in your step when hiking or running but not so good when you’re hitting the hay.
No matter how sumptuous dark chocolate looks and tastes- its best to eat this delicious dessert well before its time for lights out. Chocolate, in general, has a decent dose of caffeine, but dark chocolate even more so. Almost all of the top brands of chocolate bars do not list how much caffeine they contain. Still, one lab test illustrated the typical serving of dark chocolate contains between 40 to 50 mg of caffeine – the same amount as a can of soda or half a cup of coffee provides.
A small study illustrated that those who consumed spicy condiments with their dinner had increased both total times awake and sleep onset latency. The brain regulates body temperature as part of our circadian rhythm- our natural sleep-wake cycle- spicy foods can elevate body temperature throwing that cycle out of whack. Increased body temperature, as well as acid reflux and indigestion caused by the consumption of spicy food, does not make for a good bedtime story.
Again, all that protein packed into chicken can cause poor quality sleep at night. When sleep ensues, the body slows its digestion by 50%- eating high protein foods before grabbing some shut-eye will drop digestion ability even further- so your system will be focused on breaking down food rather than getting to sleep.
As tempting as Pizza is to eat all of the time, it’s best to consume this tasty meal well before it’s lights out. Cheese and tomatoes are a delicious combination, but when it comes to sleep time, not so much, as they can cause acid reflux and indigestion when lying horizontally. This favourite Italian dish is also high in fat and grease, so it should be eaten during the daytime to give your body the time it needs to digest in the stomach.
Any type of deep-fried fast food should be a no go when it comes to nighttime snacking. French fries are high in fat and will keep your body up as your system works overtime to digest them. Eating them with ketchup is even worse, as the tomato based condiment is highly acidic, which is problematic for inducing sleep- especially if you are prone to indigestion.
Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and the like should not be consumed right before bed. These fruits contain high acidity and can, therefore, cause acid reflux and heartburn, especially if eaten right before lying down. Oranges also contain fructose, a simple sugar molecule that triggers your body to become more active. Save these citrus fruits for your morning meal, and you could have more energy throughout the day!
CURED MEATS AND CHEESES
Many cured types of meat and cheeses contain tyramine. This amino acid triggers the body to release norepinephrine, a natural stimulant that causes us to become more alert. It is best to save these platters for a daytime picnic!