Best Foods For Sleep

Everything you wanted to know about which foods are good for sleep. 

Sleeping well is essential for your health, it effects everything from your hormone levels [1], to stress [2], your body’s ability to regenerate muscle [3] and even maintain a healthy weight. [2] With all this in mind it’s essential that we get a good amount of rest, and with more than a third of American’s struggling with chronic insomnia at some point in their lives [4] it makes sense that we look at every aspect of sleep hygiene. Whether that be more obvious things like caffeine intake, stress in our day to day lives, screen lights or even, as we’ll be discussing today, our food.

We’re going to focus on actionable advice here, which means unlike some other lists we’ve seen, we’ll be taking real world application into account. That means we won’t suggest you eat a mountain of walnuts for example just because they contain a small amount of melatonin… 

How Does Food Affect Sleep?

Aside from the obvious things like caffeine and other stimulants affecting your sleep, eating too much saturated fat, sugar and low fibre carbs have been shown to increase sleep disruption. [5]

Perhaps the main thing that may surprise people is that high protein diets can in fact result in a disrupted sleep, particularly if large amounts of protein are consumed in the evening as it takes longer to break down and can cause minor gastric distress at night [6]. In many cases this isn’t enough to wake you up, but can lead to less deep sleep.

Lastly, certain vegetables and legumes known for producing gas, you know the ones we mean, should be avoided in the hours leading up to bed for the same reason. 

What Time Should I Eat Before Bed?

Generally speaking for the best sleep you shouldn’t consume a large meal less than 2 hours before bed, [7] especially if it contains a high volume of protein, sugar or belongs to the group of veggies that causes gas.

However, eating a small snack if you’re hungry is a good idea to prevent waking up in the middle of the night or struggling to drift off. Just avoid anything to fatty or dense. Things like yoghurt are a good option.

Some supplements like glucomannan can also be useful for creating the illusion of being full, although research on this is limited, [8] as it functions to swell in the stomach, the mechanism for it working is well understood.

The Best Foods To Help You Sleep

1.    Dairy

Whilst this isn’t going to be something for everyone, if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan for example, the classic glass of milk before bed has actually be shown to not just be an old wives tale. There are two reasons that dairy is effective, the first being that it contains tryptophan, which is a natural sleep aid. [9] And the second is calcium, which has also been shown improve sleep quality, [10] with even a mild deficiency causing disruption. This doesn’t just need to be milk, low fat yoghurts are also a great option. These also contain digestive bacteria that can help break down any food still in the stomach. 

2.    Chamomile Tea

Whilst technically not a “food” it would be remiss of us not to include chamomile tea when it comes to something you can consume to improve your ability to drift off to sleep. There have been multiple studies to back chamomile for this use, with studies showing that women who drank chamomile tea for 2 weeks reported improved sleep vs the control group [11] with chamomile tea extracts of 240mg or more also having shown positive results in getting to sleep faster and less night-time waking [12].

3.    Bananas

Bananas may sound like an odd choice, but there’s a couple of reasons that they’re effective, they’re one of the best natural sources of melatonin [13]. Melatonin being the hormone the body produces to let you know it’s time to go to sleep. [14] And they’re quite a slow-release carb, meaning that they keep you feeling full without over filling your stomach. This makes them a great night-time snack option before bed that isn’t going to add too many calories. Meaning it’s good if you’re on a diet and prone to night-time hunger waking you up. 

4.    Almonds

Almonds are the best natural source of melatonin, the catch with them however is that they don’t do much to fill you up. And despite being particularly high in magnesium, which is also very helpful for sleep, to get the amount you’d need (over 350mg) you’d have to consume over 750 calories of them, meaning almonds simply don’t fit into most peoples diets in that volume. 

Although a small handful help, 300 calories worth will give you about 2mg of melatonin, [15] which is the very bottom end of an effective dose to aid sleep if you were taking it as a supplement. 

5.    Fish

Fish, particularly fatty fish, is great. Now, we know what we said earlier about not wanting too much fat, but there’s a difference here. We’re not talking about saturated fat, we’re talking about omega oils and healthy fats. The whole thing get’s a bit tricky, but the long and short of it is that Omega 3 is good for brain health, stress and sleep. [16]

6.    Oatmeal

Oatmeal may go a little against the grain of what we said about carbs as well, however it depends on the time of day you eat it, we wouldn’t recommend it 30 mins before bed, so it isn’t going to sit as a good snack option, but 2 hours before bed it’s a good last meal option. Oatmeal is a pretty good natural source of melatonin [17] and like bananas is a good slow release carb, making it a good option for if you are the sort of person to wake up hungry in the middle of the night. They’re also generally pretty easy on the digestive system and you have the added benefit of dairy if you’re using milk.

Foods For Sleep We Chose Not To Include

1.    Walnuts

Other lists such as ours will list walnuts for their melatonin content, it’s only about 20% of what almonds are on a per calorie basis making them an impractical option for most people as you’d need to add 1000s of calories to your day for them to work. 

2.    Turkey

Whilst it is a lean meat at least, the protein can still be awkward to break down at night, meaning it’s not a great choice, it’s not a bad one either due to it’s tryptophan content, it’s just not fantastic for everyone.

3.    Passionflower tea

The evidence for passionflower tea is spotty at best, and as many people report vivid dreams and nightmares as report improved sleep. 


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