The 7 Foods to Promote Your Best Sleep

By Lori Pizzani

Having a tough time getting to or staying asleep? Did you know that there are foods that can help? Every night, our bodies produce sleep-inducing hormones and compounds which contribute to our ability to catch those Zzzzs. Among these are:

  • Melatonin — a naturally produced hormone which is triggered by darkness and regulates the body’s circadian rhythm (body clock or sleep/wake cycles).
  • Serotonin – a natural nerve-transmitting chemical in the body shown to improve mood and induce sleep.
  • Tryptophan – an essential amino acid which has shown to increase the body’s production of melatonin and serotonin.
  • Glycine – the smallest of all amino acids which the body uses to form proteins, and which has been found to relax muscles and nerves, and act like a mild sedative.

Those of us who are sleep-challenged may not be producing these chemicals on our own. Luckily there are foods that contain these compounds. Consuming them an hour before bedtime could help your body find the rest it needs.

Here’s a list of foods high in sleep-inducing chemicals that you might want to consider introducing into your nighttime routine.

Go Bananas. Bananas are rich in the mineral potassium and in Vitamin B6 (also known as “pyridoxine”), both of which can promote sleep and thwart nighttime awakenings.

Do Dairy. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are calcium-rich foods that help the body process both melatonin and serotonin.

Here Fishy, Fishy. Fish, especially halibut, salmon and tuna, increase Vitamin B6 levels which aid in melatonin production.

Are You Nuts. Research has shown that nuts, in particular almonds (also rich in the mineral magnesium which helps the manufacture of serotonin), pistachios and walnuts, have high levels of tryptophan which assists the body’s production of sleep-aiding melatonin and serotonin.

Pucker Up. Research studies have shown that tart cherry juice – the juice from tart Montmorency cherries — significantly boosts melatonin levels. Drinking 2 glasses per day can improve sleep duration and ease insomnia.

Try Tea. Some teas, especially chamomile, passion flower fruit and decaffeinated green tea, can make you tired. Chamomile contains glycine. Passion flower fruit sports “harman alkaloids” which are chemicals that relax the nervous system. Decaf green tea contains theanine, an amino acid which can have a relaxing effect on the body.

Grab the Grains. Whole grain cereals, such as barley, buckwheat, and couscous, have high levels of magnesium as well as tryptophan. Moreover, a bowl of fortified cereals (such as those with whole grains or multi-grain cereals) are packed with Vitamin B6 which can induce sleep. Add calcium-rich milk for a one-two sleep punch.  

Suggested Menu Ideas

Most of these sleep inducing food and beverages are easy to eat as part of a pre-bedtime snack routine. But here are a few no-fuss menu ideas for dishes you can create and tailor to your taste preferences.

Add a teaspoon of honey to your chamomile, passion fruit or decaffeinated green tea. Honey is a natural sugar that raises the body’s level of insulin which can make you tired, while it facilitates tryptophan’s utilization in the brain.

Cut a banana into your bowl of whole grain cereal and milk to up the ante on sleepiness.

Top a small low-fat yogurt with a handful of nuts (almonds, pistachios or walnuts). You can also add a few raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or cut up strawberries to add flavor, fiber and color.

Add leftover cooked fish (or some canned tuna or canned salmon) to a small bedtime snack tray that also includes slices of cheese, a handful of nuts and a few whole grain crackers.

Mix leftover couscous with a bit of your favorite yogurt (or cottage cheese), and a handful of nuts for a multi-textured snack.

Make kale chips. For a bit of snacking variety, kale is both a super food and is calcium rich. Start with a bunch of flat-leaf kale, ribs trimmed and discarded. and leaves cut into two-inch pieces. Place without overlapping on a microwave-safe plate. Sprinkle with olive oil and a bit of sea sale, and microwave 2 to 2-1/2 minutes until crispy.

Tags:  Sleep

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