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Practically everyone knows how important sleep is for health and functionality. Without sleep, you won’t be able to function properly, and your body will not heal. Likewise, most people know that eating the right food is essential for your health. Fruits and veggies nourish your body and provide healthy energy, whereas fast food leads to obesity and heart disease.
What most people do not realize is that there is a complex relationship between sleep and food.
As Shaunak Amin, CEO and Co-Founder of SwagMagic explains, “Diet and nutrition can influence the quality of your sleep, and certain foods and drinks can make it easier or harder to get the sleep that you need. At the same time, getting enough sleep is associated with maintaining a healthier body weight and can be beneficial for people who are trying to lose weight.”
In other words, you can improve the quality of your sleep by eating the right food. At the same time, you can lose some weight by eating the right food and sleeping enough.
That begs the question, what should you eat in order to support sleep? Furthermore, how does food impact sleep? Keep reading to find out.
How Foods Affect Sleep
Before we dive into the best foods to eat that support sleep, let’s take a minute to talk about food and its relationship with sleep. Knowing how food affects your sleep will allow you to better select food that nourishes your sleep cycle.
All food is made up of some sort of nutrient. Nutrients are what provide us with nourishment. Carbohydrates, fat, protein, and water are all examples of nutrients. Nutrients serve different purposes. For instance, the purpose of water is to hydrate, whereas carbohydrates are to fuel energy. Although all humans need a variety of nutrients to survive, we need a specific balance of them.
Asker A Ahmed, Director at iProcess writes, “If people do not have the right balance of nutrients in their diet, their risk of developing certain health conditions increases.”
For example, humans need some carbohydrates to survive, but having too many carbohydrates leads to diabetes, heart problems, and other diseases.
Most relevant to this article, having the right balance of nutrients impacts your sleep. Having too much or too little of one nutrient may result in a sleep disorder. Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and zinc are all examples of nutrients required for sleep.
The Relationship Between Nutrients and Sleep
Most people know that there is a relationship between nutrients and sleep on an unconscious level. Many people will have caffeine or sugary sweets in the morning for a quick pick-me-up. In contrast, they may avoid caffeinated beverages and sweet treats at night to avoid being kept up.
Although most people are aware of the relationship between nutrients and sleep, they don’t understand how the two interact with one another. Here is what you need to understand:
Nutrients impact the brain. Whenever the brain is affected, you may not be able to go to sleep, or sleep may more readily come, depending on the nutrient at play.
Caffeine may be one of the easiest examples to understand. Caffeine increases the energy metabolism throughout the brain while decreasing cerebral blood flow. As such, caffeine activates your neurons and dopamine. This activation is what makes you feel more energetic but crash later on. It also is why drinking a caffeinated beverage before bed is a bad idea.
Foods that are good for sleep, in comparison, also impact the brain, but they impact it differently. Complex carbohydrates, for instance, are great for sleep because they keep your blood sugar levels stable.
7 Best Foods for Sleep
Now that we’ve learned about how food affects sleep, let’s talk about the best foods to eat for sleep. These foods have been associated with more restorative sleep.
- Complex CarbsComplex carbs are some of the best snacks to eat a few hours before bed. Complex carbs include whole grain bread, cereals, crackers, or rice. Note that complex carbs do not include simple carbohydrates, like white bread, regular pasta, or sweets, which are terrible for sleep. Complex carbohydrates are good for sleep because they help to create a solid sleep level. Bradley Hall, CEO of SONU Sleep writes, “Complex carbohydrates can keep blood sugar levels stable and sleep solid…” because complex carbs keep your blood sugar levels stable, you’re more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Lean ProteinLean protein can help you fall asleep because it releases tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is necessary for sleep, mood, and aggression control. It also is known to cause drowsiness, making it a top amino acid related to sleep. Chris Coote, CEO of California Honey Vapes explains why tryptophan is associated with drowsiness: “Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that can affect mood [and sleep]. Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid known as tryptophan can help the body to produce more serotonin.”
The easiest way to incorporate tryptophan into your diet is to eat lean protein, such as turkey. Turkey has high amounts of this amino acid, which explains why you get so sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner!
- Herbal TeaHerbal tea has long been a favorite drink before bed, and with good reason. Herbal tea, that is tea without caffeine, includes herbs that impact neurotransmitters. Whenever these neurotransmitters are affected, your stress is decreased, allowing you to sleep.Melanie Bedwell, E-commerce Manager at Olipop says, “Herbal teas have long been used for relaxation and sleep, and there is scientific evidence to support herbal teas as a holistic way to reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality. Herbal teas can be a great option both day and night, especially if you’re trying to kick a caffeine habit before bed.”
Some of the best herbal teas for sleep include chamomile, valerian root, lemon balm, lavender, and passionflower.
- MilkMilk is another great drink to have before bed, especially when it is slightly warmed up. It’s believed that milk is great for sleep because it includes a lot of vitamin B and D, which are necessary for a healthy night’s sleep. Not to mention, milk contains melatonin. As Brooke Galko, Marketing Coordinator at PUR Cold Pressed Juice explains, “Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep.”
Given that melatonin helps you fall asleep, drinking warm milk will aid the sleep process by increasing the melatonin in your system.
- NutsA variety of nuts are fantastic before bed. Nuts are packed full of nutrients associated with sleep, including melatonin, zinc, and magnesium.According to Katy Carrigan, CEO of Goody, “Zinc is one of the three minerals that have a sedative effect on the nervous system (the others are Calcium and Magnesium) and is also thought to help mental recovery post-stress.”
Some of the best nuts for sleep include almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, though most nuts are fantastic before bed.
- KiwiIf you have a sweet tooth before bed, eat a kiwi. Kiwi is a unique fruit that contains many nutrients that help you fall asleep. Studies have found that eating kiwis an hour before bed can help you sleep faster and better.Ubaldo Perez, CEO of Hush Anesthetics explains, “Beyond its strength as an antioxidant, kiwi is also a fruit high in serotonin… Serotonin is also critical in sleep. Serotonin in the body contributes to several aspects of sleep, including helping to initiate sleep onset and to maintain sleep during the night.”
Cherries are another fruit that can help you fall and stay asleep. Much like milk, cherries help to increase the melatonin in your body. The tarter the cherry, the more efficient it will be at helping you sleep.
Jae Pak, Founder of Jae Pak MD Medical explains, “Tart cherries can aid sleep by increasing the amount of melatonin, a sleep hormone.”
Don’t Forget a Healthy Diet
Even though the 7 foods above are great before going to bed, it’s important that you focus on having a healthy diet day and night. If you only focus on nutritious meals before bed, your sleep is still likely to suffer. Instead, have a well-balanced diet to have the best sleep and health possible.
John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner at Berry Law argues, “As a general rule, a balanced diet made up largely of a variety of vegetables and fruits is able to provide the recommended daily intake of vitamins and nutrients, contributing to better sleep while promoting a healthy weight.”
As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. The food that you put into your body will determine your health and the quality of your sleep. If you want to have a snack before bed, that is fine, but make sure to select food that is helpful for your sleep cycle.
Most importantly, avoid caffeine and sugar, and look for foods that relax stress, stabilize blood sugar levels, and promote melatonin. The 7 foods above are all fantastic for doing these three things, making them the perfect night snack.
Don’t forget about your overall diet, though. A well-balanced diet is key for sleeping peacefully throughout the night. By combining a well-balanced diet with the 7 snacks above, you will be falling asleep in no time!