I’ve never really given much thought about what I eat before going to bed. I mean sure, I know it’s not a good idea to be eating anything too heavy and obviously I steer well clear of the coffee, but aside from that I just eat what I want. I’ve recently learnt however, that certain foods can help you sleep better, and I want to explore this a bit further.
So, come with me as I take a closer look at 10 foods to eat before bed if you’re hoping for a better night’s sleep.
Having a glass of warm milk before bed has long been associated with helping us feel sleepy, but why is that? Well, milk is one of the best dietary sources of the sleep hormone melatonin. Our brains naturally produce this hormone as a response to darkness, making us feel sleepy and preparing for rest as the light fades. However, modern society has made melatonin production a lot harder for us.
Our ancestors would have followed the natural light of the sun to dictate when sleep was needed and as such the brain responded by producing melatonin. However, in this day and age we are exposed to artificial light for excessive amounts of time, right up until the moment we switch the lights off and roll over in bed. So, it’s no wonder really that so many of us struggle to get to sleep. And it’s why eating foods that are high in melatonin can help. Because if we can’t produce enough melatonin naturally, it’s up to us to get it from another source, like milk.
Nuts are another of the foods to eat before bed for a better night’s sleep, and in particular pistachio nuts. Pistachios contain high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for growth and melatonin production. They have a higher level of tryptophan than other nuts and are in fact one of the most tryptophan dense plant foods out there. They are also high in vitamin B6, protein, and magnesium and are great sources of fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, which also aid sleep.
To reap the sleep inducing benefits of pistachios you should aim to eat between 20 to 30 pistachio nuts before bed. And because it is best to boost your melatonin production at the point it begins to increase in your body, you should ideally be eating them at either 6pm or 9pm.
You might think the reason you feel so overwhelmingly tired after eating your Christmas dinner is because of the sheer volume of delicious food you’ve managed to stash away, but actually there’s another reason for your lethargy. Turkey is another one of those foods to eat before bed, because like pistachios it too has high levels of tryptophan. As well as assisting melatonin production, tryptophan also helps produce serotonin, our happy hormone. So basically, if we eat plenty of turkey, not only are we going to feel sleepier but we’re going to go to bed with a smile on our faces too.
4. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are more sour than the cherries you would find in the supermarket fruit and veg aisle, which is why they are mostly available as a juice, dried, or frozen. Classed as a superfood, tart cherries can help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce inflammation, regulate weight, improve endurance, and decrease muscle soreness and uric acid. Along with all those health benefits, tart cherries also promote good sleep, as they contain high levels of tryptophan. Even better, tart cherries contain certain enzymes that enable the tryptophan to stay in the body for longer, which means increased melatonin production. Try drinking tart cherry juice before going to bed, or why not munch on some dried tart cherries and pistachios for a double whammy of tryptophan.
5. Oily Fish
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are incredibly beneficial to our health. The main reason is because they are excellent sources of long chain omega-3 fatty acid, and consuming this type of fatty acid is essential for humans as it isn’t something we naturally produce in the body ourselves. Omega-3 fatty acid regulates blood pressure, keeps our cholesterol levels low, supports good brain health, is anti-inflammatory, and can also help with our sleep.
On top of that, oily fish is high in vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, selenium… the list just goes on, it is nutritional powerhouse. And all of these nutrients are important in serotonin regulation, which is good because serotonin makes sure our circadian rhythms run smoothly as well as helping out with that all important melatonin production.
6. Chamomile Tea
Unlike many of the other items on my list of foods to eat before bed, chamomile tea doesn’t contain tryptophan. Instead, it works by calming, soothing, and lulling us into a blissful relaxed state of mind and thus preparing us for a peaceful night’s sleep. Chamomile tea contains apigenin, which is a bioflavonoid compound that is able to work with certain receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety and promote sleepiness. It is a great drink to have before bed, especially if you are someone who suffers from insomnia or other sleep related issues. Plus, it helps hydrate you meaning you’ll wake up feeling fresher in the morning.
You shouldn’t just be eating oats at breakfast, because it turns out they’re a really great food to end the day with too. Oats contain a whole heap of sleep-inducing goodness, including minerals (magnesium, silicon, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium), they’re high in fibre, contain B vitamins, and not forgetting that golden elixir of sleep, they also contain plentiful levels of tryptophan.
Porridge is a super easy food to make before bed if you’re feeling a bit hungry. And aside from all that nutritional goodness, a warming bowl of porridge will help you feel calm and relaxed, and that’s always going to help you nod off!
Bananas are an interesting one, because not only can they help make you feel more awake and energised during the day, but they can also help you sleep. So, what’s going on there? Well, bananas are another example of a good carb in that they contain complex carbohydrates that supply you with lots of energy. In addition to that, they also contain high levels of melatonin boosting tryptophan, vitamin B6, and magnesium which all help with the sleep situation. It is an absolute powerhouse of a food.
As with any food, try not to eat too close to bedtime as this could cause acid reflex or make your stomach feel uncomfortable, neither of which will help you sleep easy.
If you take a look at the ingredients on some sleep supplements you may notice something called lactucarium. Lactucarium is a milky fluid that comes from lettuces (you may have seen it on the base of a lettuce when you cut through it) and it is a well-known sedative. Realistically you would probably have to eat a whole wheelbarrow’s worth of lettuce to actually benefit from any of its sleep-inducing properties. And let’s face it, if you did that you’d probably be spending the night on the toilet rather than peacefully sleeping in your bed.
You may have also seen lettuce water trending on TikTok, as a method to achieve good sleep. It’s worth a try, if you can bear the taste of lettuce infused water, just make sure you don’t drink too much before going to bed or you’ll be needing a wee before the night’s out.
Like oats, rice is another example of a good carb, and is therefore another one of those foods to eat before bed for better sleep. One thing worth mentioning is that you should always consider what other foods you are combining with your sleep friendly foods. You don’t want to undo the good by mixing them with something that’s going to keep you awake.
Instead, try combining these foods with each other. For example, rice pudding made with milk and sweetened with banana. Or if you fancy something savoury, try combining a tryptophan heavy protein like turkey or salmon with rice for your dinner. Tasty, healthy, and helping you get a good night’s sleep, everyone’s a winner!
Foods to Avoid Before Bed
I couldn’t finish this article without also listing some of the foods you should definitely avoid eating too close to bedtime if you want a decent night’s sleep, so let’s take a look at the worst offenders:
- Spicy Food – Spicy food like curry, chilli, etc., are usually really acidic and this can play havoc on your insides if you eat them too close to bedtime.
- Chocolate – Chocolate contains both sugar and caffeine, two big no-no’s when it comes to quality sleep. So, steer clear of the hot chocolate and have a mug of warm milk instead.
- Tomatoes – Like spicy food, tomatoes are incredibly acidic and can cause acid reflux and other gastrointestinal issues. Avoid eating them too close to bedtime if you want a comfortable night’s sleep.
- Citrus Fruits – Citrus fruits are obviously very good for you, the problem is they are a natural diuretic. This means if you eat them too close to bedtime your chances of needing a wee in the middle of the night are greatly increased.
- Cheese – We’ve all heard the old wives tale that eating cheese before bed gives you nightmares, and whilst there isn’t significant scientific evidence to prove this is the case, cheese still isn’t the best thing to be eating late at night. Its high fat content can sit heavily, again causing stomach issues.
As you can see, some foods are clearly better at helping us sleep than others. Ultimately, though there are lots of different factors that affect how well we sleep. And one of the most important things we can do is to keep healthy by eating a varied diet, exercising regularly, taking time out to rest, and limiting our use of screens or other stimulating activities too close to bedtime.
If you struggle to get to sleep, regularly wake up in the night, or feel as though you haven’t had enough sleep, perhaps it’s time to take a look at what you’re eating in the evening. Keep a food diary for a week so that you can see exactly what you’re eating and then try to incorporate some of these 10 foods to eat before bed for better sleep. Good luck!