Before reaching for that sleeping pill, take a minute to think about your nighttime eating habits--are you eating foods that promote sleep, or those that drive it away? Check out the following food suggestions to help you sleep, and start getting the rest you need!
The following foods contain ingredients like L-tryptophan and magnesium that naturally promote relaxation—and they're tasty, too!
Bananas. Bananas are high in both potassium and magnesium—two minerals that act as a natural muscle relaxants. Bananas also contain L-tryptophan, which stimulates production of the soothing neurotransmitter serotonin. Together, these ingredients can help calm your racing mind and stiff body, helping you drift off more easily.
Oatmeal. This carbohydrate-rich food triggers insulin production, which naturally raises blood sugar and can make you feel sleepy. It's also filling, so hunger pangs won't wake you in the night. If you prefer something with a crunch, a piece of whole-wheat toast can have the same effect.
Warm Milk. Babies have known this secret forever—there's nothing like warm milk to conk you out after a long day. The reasons are two-fold: in addition to mental associations between warm milk and comfort, milk contains the sedative-like amino acid L-tryptophan as well as calcium, which helps your body absorb the L-tryptophan. If you're lactose intolerant or simply not a fan of dairy, some chamomile tea with honey can have a similar, soothing effect.
Almonds. These heart-healthy nuts can promote sleep through their muscle-relaxing magnesium and L-tryptophan. They can also add some protein and healthy fat to oatmeal or a banana, making a well-rounded midnight snack.
Cherries. In addition to being delicious, cherries are one of the only foods that contain melatonin, the chemical that regulates the sleep cycle. Eating a serving of cherries an hour or so before bed can help you feel drowsy and get to sleep more easily.
On the flipside of sleep promoting foods are foods you should avoid before bed. These foods and substances have properties that can raise your alertness, cause discomfort, or prevent deep sleep.
Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that makes your brain more active—great before a morning meeting, but not before bed. Experts say you should stop consuming caffeine 8 hours before going to sleep, and watch out for hidden caffeine sources like chocolate.
High-fat and Spicy Foods. High-fat foods and certain spices can cause heartburn, which becomes even more uncomfortable when you lay down. If you have to eat a late dinner, choose something healthy and avoid overeating.
Alcohol. Although alcohol may initially make you feel sleepy, a night cap works against you by preventing the deeper stages of sleep that restore your mind and body. You are also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night once the alcohol wears off.
Getting enough sleep can improve your mood and mental alertness, while lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and other health risks. Keep these sleep promoting foods in mind, and make sleep a priority in your life!