Better Food Choices = Better Sleep

All of us have made the mistake of having that last cup of espresso or overeating too close to bedtime and then having trouble falling asleep. Or if we manage to get to sleep, we don't feel rested in the morning because our bodies were so stimulated with caffeine or too busy digesting a big meal to fully relax.

Nutritionists now know that there are even more correlations than imagined between what we choose to eat during the day and our sleep habits. By making wiser food choices to consume the nutrients needed for overall health, we can actually improve our sleep.

Food Choices That Promote Restful Sleep

  • Dairy Products: Milk, yogurt and cottage cheese are rich in calcium and the amino acid tryptophan; which aid in the production of serotonin and melatonin, sleep inducing chemicals in the brain. Calcium also helps to regulate muscle movements and can aid those who suffer from restless leg syndrome.
  • Carbohydrates: Foods like oatmeal, pretzels, rice or cereal have a high glycemic index that stimulates the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin helps clear amino acids that compete with tryptophan, allowing more of this sleep-inducing amino acid to enter the brain and shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
  • Dairy Carbohydrate Combo: For the greatest benefit from a pre-bedtime snack, combine a dairy product and carbohydrate. Opt for a bowl of cereal and milk, granola and yogurt or cheese with crackers.
  • Cherry Juice
  • Herbal Teas: Many herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, passion flower and valerian have a sedative effect. Adding a natural sugar like honey will raise insulin levels and allow tryptophan to enter the brain more quickly.
  • Tart Cherry Juice: Tart cherries boost levels of sleep-inducing melatonin in the brain. Just four ounces of juice can prove beneficial to sleep.
  • Bananas: Loaded with magnesium and potassium, bananas promote the relaxation of muscles. Magnesium deficiency is nearly always related to restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps that disrupt sleep. Eating a banana, even early in the day, can boost these mineral levels throughout the night.
  • Nuts and Legumes: Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan for production of melatonin and almonds are rich in magnesium for restful sleep. Peanuts and chickpeas contain good levels of tryptophan making peanut butter or hummus with crackers a good bedtime snack.
  • Green Leafy Vegetables: Just adding a salad to dinner can benefit sleep. Lettuce contains lactucarium, which has a sedative effect. Kale, spinach and mustard greens are loaded with calcium which helps the brain utilize tryptophan more effectively to produce melatonin.
  • Salmon
  • Seafood: Tuna, halibut, salmon, shrimp and lobster are high in vitamin B6 which is needed for the body to produce melatonin and serotonin as well as being good sources of tryptophan.
  • Lean Meats: Everyone knows that turkey can promote a sleepy feeling on Thanksgiving. All poultry and lean meats like elk and bison provide tryptophan to induce a restful night.

Food Choices That Disrupt Restful Sleep

  • Caffeine Laden Drinks: Skip the coffee, energy drinks and soft drinks late in the day. The stimulating effect of caffeine peaks one to four hours after consumption. Also read labels because some pain relievers and cold medications also contain caffeine.
  • Tyramine Laden Foods: Wine, aged hard cheese, tomatoes, chocolate and cured meats are packed with an amino acid called tyramine. The body converts tyramine to noradrenaline which stimulates the brain.
  • Large Late Night Meals: It takes a lot of work for the body to digest large amounts of any foods and this disrupts restful sleep. If the foods are overly spicy, fatty or sugary, they may also trigger heartburn or indigestion and more sleep loss.