You’ve likely heard the expression, “you are what you eat.”
But did you know there’s a connection between what you eat and how well you sleep? Just like there are foods and beverages that can disrupt your sleep, there are many foods that promote sleep.
In some states, over 40% of adults get less than seven hours of sleep each night. Whether you struggle with the duration or the quality of your sleep (or both), try adding some of these foods that promote sleep to your diet.
Let’s explore the connection between food and sleep as well as the best foods to eat to help you sleep better.
Your Diet and Sleep: What’s the Connection?
Have you ever wondered what goes on in your body to create that sleepy feeling? What are the chemical interactions that take place to make us fall and stay asleep?
Your circadian rhythm, or your body’s biological clock, causes highs and lows of wakefulness and sleepiness throughout the day. When your eyes sense the morning light, your brain releases cortisol and other hormones to help you wake up. After dark, your pineal gland releases the hormone, melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy.
The pineal gland’s main function is to receive information about the light-dark cycle from the environment you are in. It conveys this information to produce and secrete melatonin.
The rhythmic production of melatonin, which is secreted only during the dark parts of the day, is used as a marker of the sleep phase of your internal circadian clock. This internal clock is what makes you feel alert or drowsy during different parts of the day.
The foods you eat can either help or hinder these natural processes. For example, caffeine blocks the receptors to adenosine in your bloodstream, which makes you feel more alert. This is one reason experts recommend avoiding caffeine in the hours before bedtime.
Foods that promote healthy sleep are generally rich in melatonin, magnesium, or tryptophan. These are minerals, amino acids, or hormones that make you feel “sleepy.” In short, they prepare your body for a good’s night sleep.
6 Foods That Promote Sleep
Now that our science lesson is over, let’s take a look at some specific foods that promote good sleep. Try adding some or all of these to your diet to help you sleep through the night.
Turkey and other types of poultry like chicken can induce sleepiness. It’s high in protein, selenium, and phosphorus—all of which can contribute to a good night’s sleep.
The biggest benefit of eating turkey is its high levels of tryptophan. Your body doesn’t naturally produce this amino acid, so you can only get tryptophan from what you eat or drink.
Tryptophan helps your body to make serotonin, a relaxing “feel good” hormone. This, in turn, helps your body to make melatonin, which is the hormone that controls your sleep cycle. Eating a few pieces of turkey before bedtime could improve your sleep quality and help you wake up less during the night.
Nuts are a nutritious evening snack since they’re low in sugar and high in healthy fats.
Nuts are a good source of magnesium and calcium, which promotes muscle relaxation and helps you fall asleep easier. The same study also suggests that magnesium can reduce cortisol levels, helping you feel less stressed and improving the quality of your sleep.
Try eating a small serving (one ounce) of almonds, walnuts, or pistachios to promote sleep.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of tryptophan, zinc, and magnesium. The zinc helps to convert tryptophan into serotonin, which is then converted into melatonin.
Eat a handful before bed or sprinkle the seeds on Greek yogurt or a fruit smoothie. It’s not only the seeds that are good for you—pumpkin is a powerhouse of nutrients that promote sleep and good health in general.
4. Kiwi Fruit
The kiwi fruit originated in New Zealand, but people worldwide love it for its sweet taste and nutritional properties. Kiwi is rich in potassium, serotonin, and vitamins C and E.
Researchers have found that people who eat kiwi fruit a few hours before bedtime fall asleep faster and experience higher sleep quality due to the antioxidant properties, and their ability to address folate (vitamin B9) deficiencies.
5. Tart Cherries or Cherry Juice
Available whole or as tart cherry juice, cherries improve the quality of your sleep. Researchers have found that people who drink two cups of tart cherry juice daily experience longer sleep time and better sleep efficiency.
This is likely due to the combination of antioxidants as well as the promotion of high levels of melatonin. Look for Richmond, Montmorency, or English morello varieties the next time you’re at the fruit stand.
6. Dairy Products
Did your grandparents swear by a glass of warm milk before bedtime? It turns out there’s plenty of research to back up that claim.
Milk contains four important sleep-promoting compounds: tryptophan, vitamin D, calcium, and melatonin. There’s also evidence that malted milk products help to reduce sleep interruptions.
If you’re not a fan of drinking milk, you could try a little cottage cheese or yogurt before bed for a similar effect. All dairy products contain tryptophan, which is useful for a good night’s sleep.
The foods you eat can be the difference between a restful or a restless night. Incorporating foods rich in tryptophan, vitamins, and magnesium aid in the production of melatonin, allowing you to catch some ZzZs with ease.