Whether you are a late-night snacker or want to know which foods encourage restfulness, there are certain foods that can help you sleep. Many people are dependent on sleep aid supplements to fall asleep and stay asleep. However, foods that encourage tiredness may do the trick instead.
Attempting to wake up on time and later attempting to fall asleep on time can be a vicious cycle. Americans often rely on caffeine from coffee, tea and energy drinks just to power through their busy days. Then, when it comes time to put the mind and body to rest, both are too caffeinated to fall asleep at an appropriate time. Thus, sleeping pills are needed.
Rather than force your body into sleep with supplements and pills, try easing your mind and body into a restful state with foods that help you sleep by naturally encouraging tiredness. Certain foods contain minerals and other properties that signal receptors in your brain that it is time for bed. Eating a banana before bed is one example, but there are many more options.
What to Eat Before Bed
Food is a source of nourishment, but it is also a source of energy. When determining the best foods to eat before bed, you should also consider the timing of your last meal and any snacks and drinks.
Eating before bed is controversial since there is a myth that the body's metabolism slows down later in the day. However, there is no research that supports this idea. While eating before bed may not cause weight gain, it can cause your energy levels to spike.
To prevent insomnia, Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding heavy meals before bed. Instead, consume larger meals earlier in the day and have a small meal or snack in the evening. Aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep is associated with many health benefits, but adults may struggle with falling and staying asleep as they get older. Despite this, over-the-counter sleeping aids are not recommended because of their side effects.
What to Drink Before Bed
Certain drinks can be just as effective as the best foods to eat before bed. Chamomile tea is a well-known solution to sleeplessness and has been used to encourage tiredness for hundreds of years.
In a small December 2017 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers studied the effects of chamomile extract in 60 elderly subjects. A significant improvement in the quality of sleep was found among participants in the chamomile group. Researchers concluded that the use of chamomile can promote higher quality sleep, especially in elderly people.
Other drinks that encourage sleep include warm milk, herbal teas, cherry juice and almond milk. Consuming drinks containing banana before bed may also help to induce restfulness.
Read more: Side Effects and Benefits of Chamomile Tea
Foods High in Magnesium
Magnesium is often associated with muscle relaxers and reducing stress. If you are trying to improve your sleep schedule, both of these benefits should be on your radar.
According to a December 2016 study published in the German journal Fortschritte der Medizin, people with either mental or physical stress can benefit from consuming magnesium. Researchers studied 100 participants and those who took a daily magnesium supplement experienced improvements in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which can be used to measure stress levels. Therefore, magnesium may be used to alleviate symptoms of various sleep disorders.
Per the research available, there is evidence supporting the benefits of magnesium to relax the body. However, more research is needed to confirm the connection between magnesium and sleep.
According to the USDA, foods rich in magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Lima beans
Banana is a dietary source of magnesium, so eating one before bed or drinking a banana smoothie may help you fall asleep. You can also eat a handful of trail mix since nuts and seeds also contain magnesium.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Liquid Magnesium?
Foods Rich in Melatonin
Melatonin is a classic sleep-inducing hormone. In fact, it is the hormone that regulates the cycle between waking and sleeping.
According to Mayo Clinic, melatonin supplements can treat insomnia and jet lag without increasing the likelihood of becoming dependent on melatonin use. Melatonin is also proven to advance the start of sleep time, increase total sleep time and reduce sleep-wake cycle disturbances.
An April 2017 study published in Nutrients found the following foods to be natural potent sources of melatonin:
Melatonin is also found in some fortified foods, such as cereals. Since cherries are a good source of melatonin, drinking cherry juice may have the same sleep-inducing effect.
Read more: Is Melatonin Safe for Kids?
GABA and L-Theanine
Both γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and l-theanine are associated with getting better sleep. However, they may be more effective when combined.
A February 2019 animal study published in Pharmaceutical Biology found that GABA and l-theanine work better together than they do separately. The combination was found to improve sleep quality and duration in rats. Human studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Dietary sources of GABA include:
L-theanine is mainly found in herbal teas and some mushrooms. Green tea is one of the most potent sources of l-theanine, though the caffeine content may prevent you from falling asleep at night.
Foods to Avoid Before Bed
While there are foods that help you sleep, there are also foods that do the opposite. Instead of preparing a huge meal late at night, reach for some of the best foods to eat before bed and incorporate them into a light dinner or snack.
If it is late at night and you are trying to become tired, you may want to avoid some of these foods, which can have an energizing effect on the body:
- Dark chocolate, which has caffeine
- Yerba maté, which is a natural alternative to energy drinks
- Sugar-filled beverages, such as soda and fruit juice, which can spike energy and even cause heartburn when lying down
- Sweetened yogurt, which contains sugars that can be broken down into readily available sources of energy
In general, you should avoid foods high in sugar and caffeine right before bed. Instead, look for nighttime snacks with protein and fat, as well as natural food sources of melatonin, magnesium, GABA and l-theanine.
If you still need to take a sleep-aid supplement before bed, that is OK. Try natural sleeping pills that contain melatonin instead of options that are habit-forming and leave you feeling groggy the next day.
- Cleveland Clinic: “Sleeping Less as You Age? 9 Best Tips to Tackle Insomnia”
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine: “The Effects of Chamomile Extract on Sleep Quality Among Elderly People: A Clinical Trial.”
- Progress of Medicine: “Long-Term HRV Analysis Shows Stress Reduction by Magnesium Intake”
- MyFoodData: “Top 10 Foods Highest in Magnesium”
- Mayo Clinic: “Melatonin”
- Nutrients: “Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin”
- Pharmaceutical Biology: “GABA and L-Theanine Mixture Decreases Sleep Latency and Improves NREM Sleep”
- Huffington Post: Eat These Foods For A Better Night's Sleep