16 Aug 2016

Foods that help you sleep

It’s been a long day at work and you’re now having trouble getting to sleep. Sleeping problems aren’t uncommon in Australia, so you’re definitely not alone in your pain. To make things even tougher, many Australian adults are not helping themselves by eating and drinking things that affect their sleep schedule.

The old adage of ‘you are what you eat’ also applies to your sleep. To help you sleep, here’s a list of foods and drinks that can help you to get a better night’s rest.

Nutrition and sleep

Nutrition plays an essential role in your sleep. If you want to align your diet to have the most optimal sleep, aim to eat more foods or drinks that contain serotonin, a serenity-boosting neurotransmitter.

Food & Drink that will help you sleep:

Herbal tea: Try herbal teas like peppermint or chamomile. These teas are natural remedies that are a great help for sleep problems. Check the label before buying teas as some do contain caffeine.

Warm milk: Warm, skim milk is another option if you have no tea in the house. Calcium combines with tryptophan (which is found in turkey, pork loin, chicken, egg whites, soy products and pumpkin seeds) and creates melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

Bananas, seeds and nuts: Not having enough magnesium in your diet can cause you to wake during the night. Foods rich in magnesium can help to reduce insomnia, especially in aging individuals1. Bananas, seeds and nuts are the best choice when looking to add more magnesium to your diet.

Jasmine rice, whole grains and chickpeas: Vitamin B6 is needed to produce the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Jasmine rice, being on the high glycemic index, triggers more insulin and therefore increases tryptophan’s uptake by the brain, creating the sleep-inducing hormone. Whole grains like barley and bulgur are also rich in magnesium while chickpeas contain Vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin. 

Food & Drink to avoid:

Having any of these foods in the hours leading up to going to bed have been proven to have a negative effect on your sleep quality2.

Alcohol: It’s often been said that a nightcap can help you fall asleep, however these initial effects don’t last long. Alcohol can shorten your high-quality REM sleep stage as it disturbs chemicals in the brain.

Caffeinated beverages: Coffee and sodas are all stimulants that block the action hormones in the brain that makes you feel sleepy. If you can, avoid caffeinated drinks within 6 hours of bed to reduce its effects3.

Heavy meals, foods high in saturated fats: Unhealthy fat sources, like fatty meat and fried foods are not a great help for sleep problems. As well as this, avoid large food portions as they will lower your serotonin levels and could cause you abdominal discomfort, heartburn, and acid reflux – all of which disturb your digestive process.

Spicy food: Having spicy foods right before bedtime can give you indigestion. This can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. It’s linked with more time spent awake during the night, thereby increasing the time it takes for you to fall asleep. Spicy food contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers and this affects sleep via changes in body temperature.

Sleeplessness can be the result of more than just poor dietary choices in the hours leading up to bedtime. If you are continually struggling to get to sleep at the end of each day, it could be due to something bigger than what you’re eating. Understanding how exercise, diet and sleep work together and affect each other may help you to sleep soundly. Download our eBook “Unlocking the Pillars of Health” for a comprehensive introduction to provide you with help for sleep problems.

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  1. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trialhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
  2. Foods that help you sleep. Wake up to Sleep. https://www.wakeuptosleep.com/blog/2015/03/foods-that-help-you-sleep.html
  3. Drake C et al. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. J Clin Sleep Med 2013;9(11):1195–200.