Is There a Secret Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Is There a Secret Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Is There a Secret Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Lee esto en EspañolGo to a library or bookstore, and you’re likely to see row upon row of books that all claim to have the solution to a perfect night’s sleep.

Despite all these “solutions” being offered, many people still can’t get enough sleep. Maybe the secret to a full night’s rest is in your kitchen.

What to Avoid Later in the Day

Let’s start by removing items that can interrupt your slumber.

Alcohol. One drink to avoid when you’re struggling to sleep: alcohol. Though it may help you relax, alcohol keeps you from entering the deepest, most restorative stages of sleep. If you have a nightcap too close to bedtime, your full night’s sleep might still leave you feeling tired and lacking concentration.

Caffeine. Another obvious item to nix is caffeine, especially later in the day. The caffeine in your afternoon coffee can remain in your body for eight to 12 hours. It stimulates the central nervous system, waking you up while triggering adrenaline and releasing cortisol, a stress hormone.

Consuming caffeine is also an increasing problem as we age because the way our bodies metabolize and tolerate caffeine changes. What was once part of our daily routine can cause insomnia. That’s why it’s best to ban those teas, cocoas, chocolates and soft drinks from your afternoons and evenings.

Heavy meals. Some cultures make lunch the largest meal of the day. Having a smaller meal at dinner aids digestion and helps with sleep, too. A big, heavy, spicy or fatty meal close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep and cause indigestion that can keep you up. Keep evening meals and snacks light.

What Foods and Drinks Can Help?

You may have heard of or even tried one of the many folk remedies for beating sleepless nights. While the list of foods believed to be natural sleep agents (soporifics) is long — from warm or cold milk to chamomile tea — there’s good news. Some research supports the idea that a few foods, when eaten as a light snack before bedtime, may help bring on those needed Z’s.

Some foods have tryptophan, an amino acid that can cause sleepiness. Eating carbohydrates, or carbs, along with foods containing tryptophan can help by making tryptophan more available to the brain and boosting the brain’s serotonin levels. And there are other foods that may help, too.

Try these foods in small amounts before bed to see if they work for you. Keep in mind that the science is inconsistent on these potentially sleep-inducing foods.

Carb and protein combo. The best bedtime snack might be a small amount of protein and a carb, like cottage cheese and whole grain crackers, whole grain cereal and yogurt, or peanut butter on whole grain toast.

Cherry juice. Tart cherry juice may help you sleep. Tart Montmorency cherries are rich in the antioxidant melatonin, which may help promote sleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleepiness. Your brain’s pineal gland makes it and secretes it at night to help control your daily sleep-wake cycles.

Almonds and hazelnuts. Ready to get a little nutty before bed? Almonds and hazelnuts contain magnesium, a muscle-relaxing mineral that plays a key role in regulating sleep. Try a small handful of almonds or hazelnuts before bed.

Bananas. Bananas offer many nutrients in a disposable, affordable package. Besides vitamin C and fiber, they contain tryptophan. Bananas also offer magnesium and potassium and are a good source of vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin.

Yogurt. Calcium-rich foods like yogurt and milk make good bedtime snacks. A shortage of calcium may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and prevent you from going back to sleep.

A recent study suggests calcium is directly related to sleep cycles. Researchers found that calcium levels in the body are higher during some of the deepest levels of sleep. The study suggests sleep disturbances may be related to a calcium deficiency. Regular sleep patterns resumed when the blood calcium level returned to normal.

A nighttime ritual of eating a snack before bed may help you relax and ease stress.

Still Need Help?

If you have problems with insomnia and nothing seems to help, there may be an underlying medical problem. It may be time to talk to a health care professional.

Making the Food-mood Connection.

Your morning coffee, lunchtime salad and late-night pizza binge all influence chemicals called neurotransmitters that are produced in the brain.

Some of these chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, play a large role in whether you feel down in the dumps or as light as air.

Fortunately, many foods that nourish your body also can lift your spirits or quiet your racing mind. Here are some foods that can soothe common mood troubles.

Mood: Afternoon slump
Food: Eggs or peanut butter

Your 3 p.m. collapse may drive you straight to the vending machine or the candy dish. But think twice before you unwrap that sweet treat. Sugar may perk you up for a moment, but quick surges in your blood glucose will soon lead to drops that leave you more exhausted.

Instead, reach for snacks high in protein. They steady your blood sugar and boost your production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which keep you alert and focused.

Mood: Stress, anxiety and sadness
Food: Salmon and walnuts

These foods contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs but can’t produce on its own. Besides nuts and oily fish like salmon and mackerel, you’ll find these fatty acids in flaxseeds and canola oil. Supplements that have omega-3 fatty acids are also available. Talk with your doctor before you take them.

Mood: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) fatigue and irritability
Food: Dairy

If PMS leaves you tired, irritable and unfocused, reach for yogurt. There’s evidence that calcium can ease fluid retention and regulate the swings in neurotransmitters that lead to PMS problems. Ditching dairy? Other calcium-rich options include leafy greens, almonds and fortified juices.

Sources: Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality, leaving site icon European Journal of Nutrition, 2012; Pilot Study of Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms, leaving site icon American Journal of Therapeutics, 2018; Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis, leaving site icon Nutrients, 2016; The Best Foods to Help You Sleep, leaving site icon National Sleep Foundation, 2020; 3 p.m. Slump? Why a Sugar Rush May Not Be the Answer, leaving site icon University of Cambridge, 2011; Omega-3s for Anxiety?, leaving site icon Harvard Health, 2019

Originally published 2/4/2021; Revised 2022