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Most of us fall asleep soon after laying our heads on our pillows, but many people have trouble going to sleep at a reasonable hour every night.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an average adult needs a minimum of 7–9 hours of daily sleep to remain physically and mentally functional in all spheres of his/her life.
This may not seem like a tall order on paper, but in reality, most people sleep an average of only about six hours. In fact, more than 50 million Americans don’t get enough sleep. (1)
Sleeping troubles are often disregarded as a minor hiccup in your daily routine rather than a serious grouse. While that may be true if you only encounter them once in a while, generalized neglect for adequate sleep can take a serious toll on your body and mind.
Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better
Here are 10 foods that help promote quality sleep.
1. A handful of cherries
Cherries contain a good amount of melatonin, the chemical that helps control the body’s internal clock. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, eating a handful of cherries, especially tart cherries, a few hours before going to bed could help you sleep better. (3)
If fresh cherries are not available, you can opt for tart cherry juice or even dried or frozen tart cherries. According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester, people with chronic insomnia may find relief by drinking a cup of tart cherry juice twice daily until their condition improves. (4)
2. A glass of milk with honey
Drinking a glass of milk before bedtime could also help you fall asleep. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin. Tryptophan and serotonin play a role in helping you sleep.
Plus, milk is a good source of calcium, which may help regulate melatonin production. (7) Along with milk, you can eat other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. These may be more tolerable for those with lactose intolerance.
3. Go for jasmine rice
According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate jasmine rice, which has a high glycemic index, for dinner fell asleep faster compared with those who ate other types of rice with a low glycemic index. (8)
The high glycemic index of jasmine rice makes the body digest it at a faster speed compared with whole grains such as brown rice. High-glycemic foods boost the production of tryptophan and serotonin in the blood, thus encouraging sleep.
Therefore, eat jasmine rice or other high-glycemic index grains to significantly cut the time it takes you to fall asleep. Keep in mind that portion size should be kept in moderation and as part of a balanced meal.
4. Consume walnuts
Regular intake of these brain-shaped nuts increases the blood levels of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin, leading to improved sleep quality.
Snacking on walnuts close to bedtime, or throughout the day, is perhaps one of the most delicious ways to help you drift off with ease. (9)
The recommended serving size for walnuts is about 30 grams, which translates to 14 halves.
5. Include tuna in your diet
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep. A low level of vitamin B6 is associated with insomnia, so it’s good to include B6-rich foods such as tuna in your diet. Vitamin B6 is also important for the immune system.
6. Chow down on almonds
Almonds are a good source of magnesium, (12) which promotes both sleep and muscle relaxation. A study conducted on elderly people and subsequently published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences lends support to this beneficial attribute of magnesium.
According to this study, supplementing the diet of the subjects with almonds appeared to improve subjective and objective measures of insomnia in elderly people. To conclude, magnesium was proposed as a useful instrument in managing sleep disorders in the elderly. (13)
These nutty delights are also replete with tryptophan, which helps the body synthesize sleep-promoting hormones: melatonin and serotonin.
Plus, almonds supply enough protein to help stabilize your blood sugar level while sleeping. Try eating just a handful of dry roasted almonds or a tablespoon of almond butter at least 1 hour before going to bed to fall asleep faster.
7. Serve yourself with fortified cereals
To promote sleep, eat foods that contain “good” or complex carbohydrates, such as fortified cereal. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates can help boost tryptophan in the bloodstream.
Tryptophan-fortified cereal has been shown to positively affect sleep in the elderly. (14)
Fortified cereals are a great source of vitamin B6 which is essential in producing melatonin. For a good night’s sleep, eat a small bowl of fortified cereal that is low in sugar for breakfast and/or dinner. Adding in milk for breakfast and/or dinner will also give nutritional benefits to encourage a good night’s sleep.
8. Hard-Boiled eggs
If you have trouble staying asleep at night, it may be due to a lack of protein-based foods before bedtime. Eating hard-boiled eggs hours before bed may help you fall and stay asleep through the night. An average large egg provides about 6 grams of protein.
Two slices of brown bread, some cheese, a hard-boiled egg, and a glass of milk are an example of a dinner menu for those who are having trouble sleeping soundly at night.
Combining protein-rich foods with complex carbohydrates can provide the body with the building block amino acid tryptophan and make the tryptophan more accessible to the brain. (15)
9. Partake kiwifruit
Kiwifruit is a source of antioxidants and serotonin, making it a gold-standard fruit for promoting better sleep. In fact, a daily intake of kiwifruit has been associated with marked improvements in sleep quality and efficiency of sleep.
One study found subjects who consumed two kiwifruits an hour before bedtime had significantly higher total sleep time and sleep efficiency compared with the control group. (16) These results suggest that eating two kiwifruits about an hour before bedtime may help improve your sleep quality.
10. A gentle cup of herbal tea
One of the best ways to improve sleep is to avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages in the evening. However, you can surely enjoy a cup of herbal tea to aid sound sleep. Decaffeinated green tea, herbal tea, and chamomile tea are the best options for this.
Chamomile tea contains chemicals that relax nerves and muscles and act as a mild sedative. Green tea contains theanine, which helps promote sleep. If you are extremely sensitive to caffeine, drinking green tea may not be best before bedtime. You can read more about the benefits of green tea here.
Research in postpartum women suggests that drinking chamomile tea can have some immediate benefits to aiding sleep. However, the beneficial effect was not seen past 2 weeks in comparison with the control group. (17)
Eating these foods may be what you need to fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.
What Causes a Troubled Sleep?
Below are a number of factors that can be held responsible for sleep disturbances.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may have one or a combination of the below causes of troubled sleep: Your body might have problems reconciling with changes in your sleeping pattern or environment.
- Psychological distress stemming from depression, anxiety, or personal and work-related stress can also contribute to this problem.
- Excessive intake of coffee or other sources of caffeine during the day can keep you up at night.
- The initial drowsiness induced by alcohol consumption is rather short-lived and is not to be equated with sound and quality sleep. People who drink alcohol shortly before bedtime might fall asleep quicker than usual but tend to wake up later in the night. Alcohol is also known to worsen insomnia symptoms in the long run.
- Chronic reliance on sleeping pills to improve sleep quality and duration is likely to produce light, broken sleep patterns.
- Narcotic use is also associated with a lack of sound sleep.
- Nothing good comes out of smoking, and the same holds true for your sleep pattern as well. The main component of cigarettes is nicotine, which is a known stimulant that prevents sound sleep by triggering brain activity.
- Disrupted sleep can also be traced back to certain medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure and prostate enlargement. (18)
- You may encounter trouble getting sound sleep on account of certain painful ailments, such as arthritis, chronic low back pain, and neuropathy.
- Jet lag, delays in your sleep-wake routine, and erratic work shifts can also give rise to circadian rhythm sleep disorders, which disrupt your biological clock and result in insufficient sleep.
- Side effects of some medications can cause sleep problems.
- A lack of sleep is the most obvious by-product of restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
- Your sleep troubles might be rooted in certain neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and delirium.
- Noise and light distractions can also contribute to a hostile sleeping environment.
- Waking up in the middle of the night to make trips to the bathroom can also make it difficult for you to catch up on uninterrupted and restorative sleep.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
Adopting certain changes to your sleeping environment and overall lifestyle can improve your sleep quality. Some nifty sleep hygiene tips that can help you snooze better at night include the following:
- Set your room temperature at a balanced degree, which is neither too warm during winters nor too cold during summers. A general suggestion for optimal sleep is between 60°F–67°F.
- Keep your sleeping space free of any clutter and other stimulants such as a LED TV.
- Try not to engage in any triggering discussion or rigorous physical activity right before bedtime. However, one can benefit from a mild exercise such as a short walk in the park, which will help digest your dinner, alleviate stress, and release feel-good endorphins in your body.
- Stick to a designated place for sleeping and a consistent sleeping schedule.
- Calming yourself by listening to soothing music might help induce better sleep.
- Maintain a gap of at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime to give your body time to digest the food before you call it a day. A light, nutritionally balanced dinner is always preferred over a heavy, greasy one.
- Refrain from smoking or drinking coffee and sweetened beverages shortly before retiring for bed.
If you find yourself consistently grappling with sleep issues without much avail, don’t give up just yet.
What if you were told that certain foods can greatly increase your odds of a successful night’s slumber? Your ability to fall and stay asleep rests on two vital neurotransmitters, namely, melatonin and serotonin. While the former is a hormone responsible for regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycle, (19) the latter is a chemical that works as a natural mood stabilizer. (20)
Thus, you may be able to eat your way to improved sleep by making better dietary choices that supply your body with these essential sleep-inducing components.
Apart from foods enriched with melatonin and serotonin, it is also advisable to include foods that contain tryptophan and vitamin B6, which facilitate the production of these hormones in the body.
Aim to get these foods in your diet throughout the day instead of trying to eat everything at dinner. Keep your dinner small as eating too much late at night could interfere with your sleep.
What Are the Repercussions of Inadequate Sleep?
There are nights when no matter how tired you are, you just can’t manage to doze off. Everyone’s familiar with the crankiness, fatigue, and lack of focus that result thereafter.
While occasional sleepless nights have become quite the norm given the frenzied lifestyles prevalent today, it can get quite harrowing if this becomes a consistent pattern.
A chronic inability to fall asleep or stay asleep such that you wake up refreshed and restored the next morning tends to make your brain foggy and dull. Such debilitating mental effects can have overarching repercussions for your overall quality of life.
Waking up groggy and irritable after a night of denied sleep sets the tone for the rest of the day and translates to temper issues and an overall lack of focus. After such a despondent start, you will find it especially hard to make decisions and give your best at work.
Moreover, your brain will not be at its attentive best and is likely to shut down at any point during the day. Insufficient sleep also gives rise to memory issues and poor balance. This compromised cognitive function is particularly dangerous because it increases your risk of injury and accidents at home, at work, and on the road.
People who don’t get enough shut-eye on a regular basis also experience low sex drive and mood fluctuations and find it harder to invest emotionally in their personal relationships. A lack of restorative sleep during the night also means that you are more likely to fall asleep at odd hours during the day.
Overlooking the issue will not make it go away, but will only make it worse. In the long term, this continued lack of sleep can make one prone to gastrointestinal issues, depressive episodes, (21) heart disease, obesity, (22) high blood pressure, and diabetes. (23)
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Amy Gorin (Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist)
Going for a walk may help you sleep better. I would just make sure not to schedule your walk for too close to bedtime because exercise close to bedtime can be stimulating. This is going to be different for different people – so play around with what time of day you walk and how that affects your sleep patterns to see what works best for you.
Only reach for a snack at bedtime if you are truly hungry! Here are some foods that may help you sleep:
Tomatoes: These red gems boost your melatonin levels, a hormone that helps regulate your internal clock. I like to slice cherry or grape tomatoes in half, then drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil – which also provides melatonin.
Sunflower seeds: These seeds provide tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps your body create melatonin. Sunflower seeds also offer filling fiber and healthy fats, which help curb your hunger for longer.
Dried tart cherries are a sleep-promoting fruit. They contain melatonin and may even improve sleep efficiency.
Almonds provide melatonin, a hormone in your body that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Moreover, almonds contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber – all of which are satiating nutrients that help you stay fuller for longer. You can have a tablespoon or two of almonds, or mix almond butter into almond butter protein balls.
To help your sleep, I’d suggest avoiding consuming anything caffeinated, from at least four to six hours before bedtime. Plan your last cup of coffee for the day before then!
Here are a couple:
Tart cherry juice: As with dried tart cherries, tart cherry juice provides melatonin. Regularly drinking tart cherry juice may increase sleep time.
Chamomile tea: This herbal tea may help you sleep. In a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, postpartum women who regularly drank chamomile tea daily for two weeks reported short-term sleep benefits.
Journaling can help bring on feelings of calm. The act of writing down your thoughts can also help you fall asleep if your mind is running non-stop at bedtime.
After braving through a long, hard day, you owe yourself some quality sleep to help your system reboot and prepare for the next day.
It will help you be happier, keep your brain sharp, strengthen your immune system, keep your waistline trim, make your skin glow, and lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. (2)
Good sleep habits can help you have a more productive bedtime. If you need a push to get to bed earlier, put a calendar reminder in your phone for half an hour to an hour before you’d like to get to sleep so you can begin winding down.