Go to a library or bookstore, and you’re likely to see row upon row of books that all claim to have the solution to a perfect night’s sleep.
Despite all these “solutions” being offered, many people still can’t get enough sleep. Maybe the secret to a full night’s rest is in your kitchen.
What to Avoid Later in the Day
Let’s start by removing items that can interrupt your slumber.
Alcohol. One drink to avoid when you’re struggling to sleep: alcohol. Though it may help you relax, alcohol keeps you from entering the deepest, most restorative stages of sleep. If you have a nightcap too close to bedtime, your full night’s rest might still leave you feeling tired and lacking concentration.
Caffeine. Another obvious item to nix is caffeine, especially later in the day. The caffeine in your afternoon coffee can remain in your body for eight to 12 hours. It stimulates the central nervous system, waking you up while triggering adrenaline and releasing cortisol, a stress hormone.
Consuming caffeine is also an increasing problem as we age because the way our bodies metabolize and tolerate caffeine changes. What was once part of our daily routine can cause insomnia. That’s why it’s best to ban those teas, cocoas, chocolates and soft drinks from your afternoons.
Heavy meals. Some cultures make lunch the largest meal of the day. Having a smaller meal at dinner aids digestion and helps with sleep, too. A big, heavy, spicy or fatty meal close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep and cause indigestion that can keep you up. Keep evening meals and snacks light.
What Foods and Drinks Can Help?
You may have heard of or even tried one of the many folk remedies for beating sleepless nights. While the list of foods believed to be natural sleep agents (soporifics) is long — from warm or cold milk to chamomile tea — many of them may not actually help you sleep.
But there’s good news. Some research supports the idea that there are a few foods that may help you sleep when eaten as a light snack before bedtime.
For example, some foods have tryptophan, an amino acid that can cause sleepiness by increasing the production of serotonin. Eating carbohydrates along with foods containing tryptophan can help by making more tryptophan available for serotonin production.
A nighttime ritual of eating a snack before bed may help you relax and ease stress. Try these foods in small amounts before bed to see if they work for you. Keep in mind that the science is inconsistent on these potentially sleep-inducing foods.
Carbohydrate and protein combo. The best bedtime snack might be a small amount of protein and a carb, like cottage cheese and whole grain crackers, whole grain cereal and yogurt, or peanut butter on whole grain toast.
Cherry juice. One study showed that tart cherry juice can help sleep. Adults with chronic insomnia who drank a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day noticed their insomnia was less severe. Tart Montmorency cherries are rich in the antioxidant melatonin, which may help promote sleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleepiness. Your brain’s pineal gland makes it and secretes it at night to help control your daily sleep-wake cycles.
Almonds and hazelnuts. Ready to get a little nutty before bed? Almonds and hazelnuts contain magnesium, a muscle-relaxing mineral that plays a key role in regulating sleep. Try a small handful of almonds or hazelnuts before bed.
Bananas. Bananas offer many nutrients in a disposable, affordable package. Besides vitamin C and fiber, they contain tryptophan. Bananas also offer magnesium and potassium and are a good source of vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin.
Yogurt. Calcium-rich foods like yogurt and milk make good bedtime snacks. A shortage of calcium may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and prevent you from going back to sleep.
Still need help?
If you have problems with insomnia and nothing seems to help, there may be an underlying medical problem. It may be time to talk to a health care professional.
Sources: Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: A Pilot Study, Journal of Medicinal Food, 2010; Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis, Nutrients, 2016; Food and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation, 2009; Calcium and Sleep, Livestrong, 2014; American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, second edition, Roberta Larson Duyff, 2002; 3 p.m. Slump? Why a Sugar Rush May Not Be the Answer, University of Cambridge, 2011; Anxiety and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Psychology Today, 2012