Trying to get more sleep? Many lifestyle factors impact sleep quality—and what you eat before bed is one of them.¹,² Here are the best and worst foods for sleep you can eat.
Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on hormones that regulate your appetite. Eating poorly before bed also can contribute to insomnia, a sleep disorder. Commonly consumed nutrients and substances in food can impact the body’s ability to prepare for and execute proper sleep cycles.¹
The good news is that diet can make a difference.
How diet impacts sleep
Sleep is part of your body’s normal biological cycle. Twenty-four-hour cycles known as circadian rhythms are essential to maintain physical and mental health.³
For most people, the body begins to prepare for sleep during the latter part of the day. Shifts in hormones like melatonin and serotonin allow for changes in the heart and respiratory rate, as well as brain and muscle function, to prime the body for rest. If all goes according to plan, you cycle through distinctive phases of sleep several times each night.³
Diet influences the accuracy of these cycles. Eating certain foods can help optimise sleep phases, while others can disrupt them. These disruptions can contribute to waking up feeling less than refreshed.³
Best foods for sleep
These foods, or the nutrients they contain, have been shown to help contribute to a better night’s sleep.
Adding tart cherry juice to your diet may boost sleep time and quality. Exactly how it aids sleep is unclear. But scientists think melatonin, an important sleep hormone found in tart cherries, may play a role.⁴
In one small study, people who drank tart cherry juice for seven days had higher levels of melatonin in their urine. They also had improvements in sleep time and quality compared with pre-study levels and people who consumed a fruit-flavoured drink (the placebo group).⁴
Do bananas help you sleep? This portable fruit gets all the glory for providing potassium, an essential mineral for proper muscle and nerve function.
But one medium banana also packs 11 milligrams of tryptophan.⁵ Your body uses this compound to produce both melatonin and serotonin. Each plays a role in regulating sleep.⁶
The protein and calcium found in Greek yoghurt make it a top pick for helping sleep. Low-protein diets have been associated with poor sleep quality.⁷
One serving of Greek yoghurt also contributes about 15-20% of your daily calcium requirement. Failing to meet daily calcium needs has been linked to poor sleep quality.⁸ Look for a brand of Greek yoghurt with vitamin D added, as it, too, is an important nutrient for sleep.¹
The omega-3 fats found in this affordable protein source help fight inflammation. And here’s why that may be important for a good night’s rest: There’s some evidence tying higher levels of inflammation in the body to poor sleep.⁹
Canned tuna also provides a hefty dose of tryptophan, which is involved in the production of melatonin and serotonin.¹⁰, ¹¹
Worst foods for sleep
Some foods and beverages can wreak havoc on your slumber. Here are some of the worst offenders.
That cup of Joe may be sabotaging your sleep. The stimulant effect of caffeine lingers long after your morning cup.¹² On average, it can take four to six hours for the amount of caffeine to reduce by half in your system, so cutting off caffeine well before bedtime is essential.¹³
To set the record straight, alcohol does not help you sleep. The sedative effect of alcohol is easily confused for sleepiness, but once the alcohol is metabolised it will wake you up and disrupt sleep cycles.¹⁴ Keep alcohol consumption moderate and, if you drink, aim for “last call” earlier in the evening when possible.
Digesting heavy, high-fat foods at evening meals can make it harder for your body to slip into dreamland. More specifically, one review links high-fat eating to lower quality sleep, meaning the amount of time you spend asleep in bed is less than optimal.⁷ Another reason to enjoy your favourite fried foods only once in a while.
The caffeine in these popular beverages can impact sleep long after you drink them. Consuming caffeinated beverages, especially at doses found in energy drinks, can disrupt your sleep even six hours before bedtime.¹⁵
Spikes and crashes in blood sugar mixed with the effect of caffeine and other stimulants leave frequent drinkers with a significantly increased risk of insomnia and jitteriness.¹⁶
Being mindful about food and beverage choices can have a big impact on sleep quality, duration, and efficiency. Gravitate towards nutrient-rich foods like tart cherry and tuna to help optimise sleep, while steering clear of excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and fried foods. Keep diet in mind when optimising your sleep, and consult with your healthcare provider if you suspect more complex sleep issues.
- Zhao M, Tuo H, Wang S, Zhao L. The effects of dietary nutrition on sleep and sleep disorders. Mediators Inflamm. 2020;2020:3142874.
- MedlinePlus. Healthy Sleep.
- Patel AK, Reddy V, Araujo JF. Physiology, sleep stages. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.
- Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(8):909-916.
- US Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central. Bananas, raw.
- MedlinePlus. Tryptophan.
- St-Onge MP, Mikic A, Pietrolungo CE. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(5):938-949. Published 2016 Sep 15. doi:10.3945/an.116.012336
- Grandner MA, Jackson N, Gerstner JR, Knutson KL. Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients. J Sleep Res. 2014;23(1):22-34. doi:10.1111/jsr.12084
- Javaheri S, Redline S. Insomnia and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Chest. 2017;152(2):435-444. doi:10.1016/j.chest.2017.01.026
- US Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central. Fish, tuna, white, canned in water, drained solids.
- MedlinePlus. Tryptophan.
- Clark I, Landolt HP. Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2017;31:70-78. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.006
- Grant SS, Magruder KP, Friedman BH. Controlling for caffeine in cardiovascular research: A critical review. Int J Psychophysiol. 2018;133:193-201. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2018.07.001
- Colrain IM, Nicholas CL, Baker FC. Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;125:415-431. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00024-0
- Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013;9(11):1195-1200. Published 2013 Nov 15. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3170
- Nadeem IM, Shanmugaraj A, Sakha S, Horner NS, Ayeni OR, Khan M. Energy Drinks and Their Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health. 2021;13(3):265-277. doi:10.1177/1941738120949181
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