More people are struggling to sleep well than ever. Our busy lifestyles, relationship with technology and physical and mental health can all interrupt a healthy sleep pattern.
It should come as no surprise that what we eat before bed can have a massive impact on the quality of our sleep. To help, we have written a guide to foods that help you sleep. We’ve also written a companion blog about foods to avoid before bed, so you get the complete picture.
Here, however, we’re focussing on the positives. We’ll share the nutrients, ingredients and foods you should be including in your diet to help you battle insomnia and interrupted sleep. Buy Food Hugger’s products to keep them fresh too.
Our experts know what to eat before bed. We will talk you through staples like white rice and whole grains, via fish and poultry to treats like honey, nuts and bananas. With a bit of care, you can even enjoy a guilt-free sneaky midnight snack.
Five Essential Nutrients That Help You Sleep
The reasons some foods are better than others when it comes to sleep are based on five key vitamins, minerals, acids and hormones. The best foods for restful sleep include melatonin, Tryptophan, B Complex Vitamins, Magnesium, and Omega 3 Vitamin D.
You can get many of these from your everyday diet. If you’re struggling, however, you might want to consider taking them in supplement form.
Foods with melatonin are some of the best natural foods to make you sleepy. It is melatonin that makes a glass of warm milk such a good sleep remedy. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. In our bodies, melatonin is produced when it gets dark. It triggers our tiredness. The level of melatonin falls as your eyes are exposed to light. This triggers wakefulness.
Alongside milk, nuts such as cashews and almonds have high levels of melatonin. Pistachios have the highest rates of all. Tart cherries and goji berries are also good sources to try. Add oats for a perfect sleep-inducing snack. Fatty fish such as tuna and salmon are melatonin-rich foods too. You might try eating them with rice and mushrooms, also natural sources of melatonin, to form an ideal evening meal.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to make Serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger, known as a neuro-transmitter, that affects affects a whole range of our bodies’ functions such as mood, healing, sexual arousal and – you guessed it – sleep. By triggering Serotonin creation, tryptophan can help ensure a restful night every night. The best foods to eat before bed contain it.
Beans, lentils and tofu are high in Tryptophan. Shellfish and Turkey meat is too. Nuts and Seeds are probably the best source to nibble on too. Milk, as with Melatonin, is a perfect way to get Tryptophan in your diet.
Vitamin B 12 (Cobalamin)
All the B complex vitamins play a role in regulating the body’s functions and hormones including sleep. Research into Cobalamin, Vitamin B12, and insomnia proved it could be used to return subjects’ sleep-wake cycles back into a normal range. It is worth checking you are getting enough in your diet.
Good sources of B12 include liver and red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk. Plant-based sources include seaweed, yeast spreads and almonds. You can also buy cereals and soy products that are specially fortified with Vitamin B12 too.
Sleep-inducing foods for adults typically include healthy amounts of magnesium. It regulates our neurotransmitters which send signals throughout the nervous system and brain. It has a calming effect and has often been suggested as a helpful tool in fighting stress and anxiety as well as insomnia. Trials have proven it has a positive impact on Restless Leg Syndrome too. If your sleep is interrupted by uncontrollable tossing and turning, adding more magnesium to your diet might help.
Foods that will give you a magnesium boost include whole wheat and quinoa, spinach, almonds, cashews and peanuts, black and edamame beans, avocado and dark chocolate.
Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 are essential fats, which means that your body doesn’t naturally produce them. They have to come from your diet or supplements. They help sleep in the form of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), which boosts our friend melatonin. It also helps to regulate levels of norepinephrine in the body. Norepinephrine is released as part of your stress response by your sympathetic nervous system. Limiting helps you relax and, it follows, enjoy a better night’s sleep.
The best source of Omega 3 Fats we have is oily fish. Cod liver oil is often recommended as a supplement. Plant based alternatives, however, include brussel sprouts, cauliflower, walnuts, flaxseeds, seaweed and algae.
Top 10 Foods That Help You Sleep
Based on the breakdown of sleep-inducing nutrients, we have collated a list of the top ten foods that make you sleep at night. This list isn’t exhaustive and, currently, science can’t answer all our sleep questions. This means there will be an element of trial and error to making changes in your diet. Find a solution that works for you. If your sleep problems are chronic, we would recommend talking to your doctor too.
Chicken and turkey provide tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid that helps your body make serotonin, our main relaxing mood hormone. This then helps our bodies make melatonin, which controls sleep cycles.
Oily fish is packed full of Omega 3. As Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), Omega 3, boosts our melatonin levels and helps our brains react to day-night changes. Fish is also rich in Vitamin B which plays a vital role in all our body functions.
Milk from any source provides high levels of melatonin. Swapping your night-time warm milky drink for a natural, sugar free yoghurt will have a similar effect. Greek yogurt is particularly great before bed because it is richer in tryptophan.
Dark, leafy greens like Kale are good sources of magnesium, which can help you relax by slowing down those niggling neurotransmitters that keep our mind’s buzzing, triggering more of our feel-good hormone serotonin.
Bananas are also an excellent source of magnesium which makes them an ideal snack before bed. They also contain tryptophan, to stimulate production of calming hormones, and Vitamin B compounds proven to fight insomnia.
Whole grains such as raw oats, brown rice, and whole wheat are great for your sleep because they retain more of their nutrients compared to their processed equivalents. Higher levels of vitamins and minerals will have you drifting off.
The healthy sugars in honey help release tryptophan throughout your body. More tryptophan means more of the mood enhancing hormone serotonin which becomes melatonin – triggering the sleep function when it gets dark.
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews are typically described as being good for sleep. Though the exact amounts can vary, nuts contain the sleep triggering hormone melatonin as well as essential minerals like magnesium. A handful of nuts is probably the best option for a midnight snack.
Eating eggs can definitely help improve your sleep. This is because eggs are an excellent source of tryptophan, melatonin and vitamins. An egg or two a couple of hours before going to bed might make all the difference.
Many of us report rice inducing a sense of drowsiness. To date, science isn’t entirely sure why but it is likely to be due to insulin. A high GI meal, like a rice dish, will cause levels of insulin to rise which triggers the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan is a sleep-trigger.
Where to Buy Sleep-Friendly Food
You can find all our food and ingredients suggestions easily available in stores, online supermarkets and health food shops. You can store them sustainably with Food Huggers’ plastic-free products too.