If you woke up feeling groggy or sluggish this morning, you may be among the millions of Americans who struggle with getting enough sleep each night. Whether we’re staying up late to finish that work project on time or just catching up on our favorite TV shows after the kids are in bed, many of us simply don’t get enough hours of shuteye. And it’s not just quantity; quality enters into the equation, as well. It’s not just sleep, but good sleep that we all could use more of. While there are many things you can do to improve your sleeping habits – including less screen time and more exercise – did you know that your diet also plays a role in helping you get a good night’s sleep?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says many foods claim to have sleep benefits, but not all of them work as advertised. “We’ve all heard of some of the foods that may make or break a good night’s sleep, but some of them work much better than others,” Pierce said. “One important thing to look for in foods if you’re trying to eat things that will help you sleep is melatonin, which is a sleep-inducing hormone. One of the few foods that contain melatonin is cherries. One study reported that people who were struggling with chronic insomnia who consumed one cup of tart cherry juice twice per day saw small improvements in sleep duration and quality,” she explained. “Bananas are another fruit that can be helpful. They contain magnesium and potassium, both of which are muscle relaxers. They also have vitamin B6, which is needed to produce melatonin,” she said. “You also can always pair a banana with walnuts or almonds, which also contain melatonin, to get some added protein,” she added.
“Milk and yogurt products also can aid in sleep improvement,” Pierce said. “They contain tryptophan, which is essentially a precursor to the brain chemical serotonin that can help you sleep. It’s debatable how effective it is at doing so, and it’s not exactly true for everyone, but there is research to suggest that, generally speaking, a calcium deficiency makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Based on that, it’s easy to assume that a calcium-rich snack would help balance the deficit of calcium, and thus help with sleep, giving you two benefits in one,” she explained. “Speaking of milk, cereal contains complex carbs and is fortified with vitamin B6, too, so it also can be beneficial when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Just remember to watch your quantities, serving sizes and limit added sugars. One tip is to try using a coffee cup for your cereal instead of a bowl,” she added.
Pierce says there are two other foods to consider trying, as well as some to avoid, if you’re looking to sleep better. “Like bananas, sweet potatoes contain potassium, which help wind you down,” she said. “They also have the complex carbs you’ll find in cereals. As for those herbal teas that promote sleep, valerian teas have had some proven benefits for better sleep, but many people may find tea helps them sleep better because it’s simply a bedtime ritual. The benefits may have less to do with the teas themselves and more to do with the fact that we’re ready for bed or nearly ready for bed when we drink them,” she said. “As for things to avoid, caffeine is a no-brainer. Naturally, you’ll want to avoid that if you’re trying to get a better night’s sleep. Also, spicy foods and alcohol can be hindrances to restful sleep. Overeating in the evening, in general, may be problematic, too, since digestion slows by as much as 50 percent at night,” she explained.