Foods to help you sleep better, foods to avoid and foods to consume prior to bed
By Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
Did you know 1 in 3 American adults get less than 7 hours of sleep per night? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being. Getting less than 7 hours is associated with poorer overall general health, and can negatively affect cognitive functioning, mood, glucose metabolism, appetite regulation and immune function (Halson 2014). As if that wasn’t bad enough, did you know that not getting enough sleep can also influence our food choices and cause you to eat more? According to a 2014 review (Chaput 2014), not getting enough sleep has been shown to increase snacking and the number of meals consumed per day. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to reach for fruits and vegetables when we are tired, and the increase in food intake tends to be from high calorie, highly processed foods lacking many of the nutrients our bodies need.
On the other hand, food and beverages we eat and drink everyday majorly impact our sleeping patterns. Eating a large meal or drinking a beverage too close to bedtime can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and cause you to get up during the night to use the bathroom. For some people, eating foods that trigger heartburn or indigestion, such as chocolate, citrus foods like orange juice or spicy foods, before going to bed can affect sleeping patterns. Consuming a couple glasses of wine at dinner or going for your late afternoon double shot espresso may also impact your sleep quality. While alcohol may help healthy people fall asleep quicker, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is thought to be the restorative stage of sleep. So, although you feel like you are sleeping more, it isn’t a good quality night’s sleep and you will feel drowsy and have a hard time concentrating the next day. Caffeine has the opposite effect of alcohol, in that it will prevent you from falling asleep. Even a moderate dose of caffeine up to 6 hours prior to bedtime is associated with sleep disturbance.
So, what should you eat or drink before you go to bed? First, ask yourself some questions.
For more ways to tell if you are really hungry, check out this article.
If you plan to eat something right before bed, these are some foods that may help you sleep better.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. This means that your body cannot make tryptophan, so you must consume it by eating a variety of foods. Tryptophan is commonly used to treat insomnia, sleep apnea, and depression (Lieberman 2016). Foods high in tryptophan include common high protein foods, including meats and poultry such as pork roast, light meat turkey, beef roast and chicken breast. Milk and cheese are also good sources.
Serotonin and melatonin are two compounds derived from tryptophan that help to control your mood and sleep. It has been found in grapes and grape products and olive oil. Other sources include salmon, chicken and lamb, bread, yogurt, and walnuts (Iriti 2015). For a high protein meal at dinner, try this chicken salad recipe. If you don’t like chicken salad, try eating salmon as your protein source for your evening meal. For a snack, you may try ½ cup of plain yogurt topped with ¼ cup of walnuts. Many of these foods are included in the Mediterranean-style eating pattern, which has been associated with better sleep quality in older adults (St-Onge 2016). The Mediterranean-style eating pattern is also recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to lower chronic disease risk. You can learn more about the Healthy Mediterranean style eating pattern at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-4.
In conclusion, we could all afford to get more sleep. Although we have discussed some foods that may have sleep-promoting effects, more studies are needed to draw firm conclusions. In general, following a healthy diet that aligns with dietary recommendations is your best option, for both improving sleep quality and reducing your risk of chronic disease.
About the Author: Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
Liz Parker, Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine in the Center for Integrative Medicine, part of University of Maryland School of Medicine, completed her PhD in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) and Bachelors of Science in HNFE with a double option in Dietetics and Exercise Health Promotion from Virginia Tech. She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. Her research interests include obesity, energy balance and lifestyle interventions to improve health and chronic disease related outcomes.
Be in the know
Support our programs
Learn with us!
We have great classes for health professionals throughout the year.
Learn more here.
Yoga Teacher TrainingLearn more here.
From the University of Maryland, Baltimore Graduate School: