We know that sleep is essential to keep us functioning at our best, but sometimes quality sleep is hard to come by due to factors like stressors and blue light. Research has shown that getting quality sleep (meaning falling asleep and staying asleep) improves our mental and physical health while helping us maintain a healthy metabolism.
Many factors play a role in good sleep such as nutrients, enzymes, amino acids, and hormones—all of which work together to regulate our sleep cycles. Some of these components naturally occur within the foods we eat and others are produced in our bodies from the food we consume. Bottom line: Certain foods can help us sleep better. While no one food will help you magically get the best sleep of your life, incorporating nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants can help you achieve those 7-9 hours of well-deserved rest. Keep reading for 10 foods that as a registered dietician, I recommend to help with sleep.
10 Foods To Keep in Your Kitchen for Better Sleep
1. Tart cherry juice
Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps the body transition into sleep. Consuming tart cherry juice in the evening may increase the availability of melatonin in the body, causing you to fall asleep more quickly and experience better sleep quality. For a fun “night cap” try out the Sleepy Girl Mocktail.
2. Cottage cheese
As if we needed more reasons to love cottage cheese, this food is a slow-digesting source of protein that contains tryptophan, which helps the body produce melatonin and serotonin, two hormones important for good sleep. Pro tip: If you get hungry before bed, try pairing cottage cheese with your favorite fruit for a balanced bedtime snack.
Almonds are not only a good source of healthy fats and the antioxidant vitamin E, but they’re also rich in magnesium. Magnesium is an important micronutrient that helps our blood vessels relax, keeping our blood pressure stable. As for sleep, magnesium can help activate neurotransmitters that aid in relaxing your body for a good night of rest. Additionally, some research has shown that magnesium may help reduce insomnia in older adults.
4. Pumpkin seeds
Also rich in magnesium, pumpkin seeds are another great option to have on hand as a pantry staple. Try adding pumpkin seeds as a garnish for soup or salads or pair them with almonds for a satisfying snack before bed.
5. Chamomile tea
Chamomile tea has been used as a sleep aid for centuries, and for good reason. Chamomile contains flavonoids that activate receptors in the brain to produce a calming effect. If chamomile tea isn’t for you, try other non-caffeinated teas before bed such as peppermint (great for digestion).
6. Fatty fish
Salmon or tuna are common sources of fatty fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Both are nutrients that are beneficial for regulating sleep cycles. Therefore, eating a few ounces of fish a few hours before bed can help you fall asleep faster.
Kiwis are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and folate. In one study, people who consumed two kiwis an hour before bed fell asleep faster and had better sleep quality. While there are many reasons why kiwis may contribute to better sleep, researchers think the main one is their high concentration of serotonin, which calms us down and helps us sleep. While you don’t necessarily have to eat two kiwis every night, try adding them into your regular fruit rotation for better sleep and its nutrients!
There’s a reason why people often joke about needing a nap after Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, a lean protein, is another good source of tryptophan. When we eat foods that contain tryptophan, the amino acid travels in the blood from the digestive system to the brain. The brain then changes it into serotonin, promoting sleep. If you want to bring turkey into your meal rotation, try transforming them into burgers, meatballs, or a taco salad.
9. Whole grains
Brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and quinoa are all great sources of whole grains. Typically higher in fiber and protein, whole grains are not only filling, but they also aid in sleep. Rice, barley, and oats in particular are all natural sources of melatonin. Incorporating whole grains into your meals throughout the day can help you achieve much-needed shut-eye.
Bananas contain potassium, magnesium, and tryptophan, which we know are key players for good sleep. Try pairing bananas with peanut butter or blending one with your choice of milk for a post-dinner sweet treat or bedtime snack.
Bonus Tip: Be Mindful About When You Eat Too
Time your sweet treats to avoid spiking your blood sugar before bed. Why can blood sugar spikes be problematic for sleep? When we consume foods that cause a spike, eventually it will cause a crash, which can lead to sleep disruption, such as waking up in the middle of the night, headaches, or sweating. Having your dessert after dinner can help prevent this as research has found that eating a dessert after a balanced meal (think: one that has protein, fat, and fiber) leads to less of a spike in blood sugar (rather than a sweet treat on its own). If you do find yourself needing a bedtime snack, opt for one that includes protein and fiber such as string cheese, a handful of nuts, peanut butter and celery, or cereal with your choice of milk.