Getting a good night’s rest is desirable, yet elusive, for many of us as we live our lives in this stressful world. It seems almost impossible to drift off to sleep when we’ve had an 8+ hour workday, taken care of home and family, plus squeezed in a gym session. After constantly being “on” all day, it can be incredibly tempting to pick up your phone and browse the internet for entertainment instead of diving into a much-needed rest. And then, somehow, all the regret in the world experienced when waking up groggy the next day won’t stay your hand the following night when your head hits the pillow.
Sleep is an integral part of life, but it’s often the first thing that gets the cut when time is short and stress is high. If you are feeling like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to donate 7-9 hours to resting at night, then time management and prioritization is where you need to start. However, if you’re still having trouble drifting off in the evening after making the time, you need to take extra steps to ensure you always get good, restful sleep.
Good sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. With kids, parents often develop bedtime routines that help the little ones successfully to sleep. This might mean bedtime stories, dimming the lights, or tucking the kids into bed. Given that this typically goes on for several years, it’s a bit odd that adults think they can just shake the day off and fall asleep properly without a solid bedtime routine in place.
The first step to regaining your sleep health is to ensure that you achieve a restful state. That means reintroducing the sleep routine in your life. Taking at least one hour before bedtime to relax, read a book, put down the electronics, and start getting settled in bed.
But things don’t have to stop there.
You can take steps (or bites) throughout the day to ensure that your upcoming snoozefest will be productive. Your diet plays a central role in your most aspects of general health, and when it comes to your ability to sleep, what you eat is no less important.
So here at Spire we’ve put together a list of the best foods that contain substances sure to bring you rest. During the day, consider incorporating these sleep-inducing foods into your meals and snacks.
1. Walnuts: Walnuts are known for being great additions to banana bread or for noshing, but they are also a great food to help you sleep. This is because they contain melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate and induce sleep. They are also a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps your body make its own melatonin.
2. Fish: Most types of fish are high in Vitamin B6, which helps to promote sleep through its role in producing serotonin, which has a modest mood-regulating effect that can improve the quality of your sleep. Serotonin then helps to synthesize melatonin, which, as mentioned above, regulates and induces sleep. Tuna and salmon are particularly good sources of Vitamin B6.
3. Oatmeal: Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, which helps to prevent the sugar spikes and crashes that can interfere with your sleep. Oatmeal also helps to create melatonin, so eating a small bowl just a few hours before bedtime could not only help you fall asleep faster, but also sleep more soundly through the night. Be sure to stay away from simple carbs though; these will spike your blood sugar, which will make it harder to fall asleep, as well as make your sleep restless once you finally manage to get there.
4. Poultry: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is vital to the synthesis of serotonin, and it can only be obtained by what you eat and drink. Turkey is the champion source of tryptophan, but chicken has plenty as well.
5. Peanut Butter on Whole Grain Crackers: It turns out that one of the best ways to produce tryptophan is to combine complex carbohydrates with protein. Half a chicken or turkey sandwich made with whole grain bread makes an excellent late dinner, but if you’ve eaten early and just need a light snack, then a little peanut butter on whole grain crackers could do the trick.
6. Cheese: If you are experiencing difficulties sleeping the whole night through, you should definitely add dairy products to your diet. Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can cause you to wake after just a few hours and then not let you get back to sleep. Cheese, yogurt, or even the proverbial warm glass of milk can help you achieve a full night of high-quality rest, which could provide all the energy you need to get through a full day.
7. Bananas: As many people are aware, bananas are high in potassium. What you may not realize, however, is that they are also high in magnesium. Since magnesium is one of the best natural muscle relaxers, which can help you sleep better, bananas make an excellent snack for reluctant insomniacs.
8. Eggs: Have breakfast for dinner. Eggs contain tryptophan, which explains why you may become drowsy after eating breakfast sometimes. Have an omelet in the evening instead and see if that offers any improvement in the quality of your sleep that night.
9. Honey: Orexin is a neuropeptide that keeps you alert, which is definitely not what you want if you are having problems sleeping. Honey helps to lower levels of orexin so that a busy brain won’t keep you awake. A small teaspoon of honey added to a glass of milk will give you double benefits. However, if you aren’t a milk person, adding it to a cup of herbal tea will still have the same effect of lowering orexin levels.
10. Whole Grains: Not only do whole grains have magnesium, which will help to prevent you from waking up during the night, but they also stimulate insulin production. Excellent sources of whole grains include quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal, brown or wild rice and – surprise! – popcorn.
11. Sunflower Seeds: Not only do sunflower seeds increase serotonin levels because of the magnesium they contain; they also contain tryptophan. The same is true of pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. The unsalted versions will be healthier for those watching their sodium intake.
12. Sweet Potatoes: Potassium is such an effective natural muscle relaxant that it can prevent you from getting cramps and charley horses. Sweet potatoes are also a complex carbohydrate, so you reap all those benefits as well. You just need to be careful not to eat too big a portion too close to bedtime, as even complex carbs will increase your blood sugar. Baking them is the healthiest option, so half a baked sweet potato should be enough to keep you feeling full and provide numerous sleep-inducing benefits for a full night’s rest.
13. Cereal and Milk: Combining a small bowl of high-quality whole-grain cereal, such as Shredded Wheat, with a little milk will give you a combination of foods that will assist in your efforts to sleep well in two ways. You get all the advantages of complex carbs plus the beneficial qualities of calcium-rich milk. Together, they are filling enough so that hunger will not keep you awake.
14. Prunes: There are a whole host of melatonin-producing ingredients in prunes: magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B6, just to name a few. Up to 30 minutes before bedtime, you can eat them by themselves, combine them with trail mix, or spread them on whole grain toast.
15. Pistachios: For a trifecta of sleep inducing properties, pistachios provide magnesium, vitamin B6, and protein. Although all of these will help you to have a great night’s sleep, you don’t want to try for too much of a good thing. If you exceed an ounce of nuts by too much, the result will be too many calories, which can keep you awake.
16. Cantaloupe: A lot of people freely admit they don’t drink enough water. Yet, it’s not commonly known that even mild dehydration can have a significantly negative impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep for multiple reasons. One of the most important reasons is that it can lead to melatonin deficiency. Eating melon and other watery fruits such as pears, oranges, and apples, can make up a bit for not drinking enough water.
17. Kale: Kale is high in both potassium and calcium, each of which has its own properties beneficial to sleep. Of course, many people would balk at munching on kale by itself as a bedtime snack, but adding a little turkey and maybe even some nuts or watery fruit slices could make a tasty sleep snack.
This long list should get your started. But it’s worth mentioning a few foods that you should absolutely stay away from when it comes to sleeping better. As part of a sleep-supportive diet, you should avoid:
- Coffee. Limit your caffeine intake and stop it entirely after noon. It may be affecting your sleep quality more than your realize, and you won’t know until you try reducing or eliminating it from your diet.
- Alcohol: Even though alcohol has the reputation of putting you into a drowsy rest, the truth is that it is detrimental to your sleep quality. Research shows that alcohol may cause you to wake up during the night, greatly impacting your restfulness and energy the next day.
- Spicy foods: Spicy foods before bedtime can give you indigestion that makes it nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep. However, even if you eat spicy foods without discomfort, they are still linked with more time spent awake during the night and taking longer to fall asleep.
Before signing off to go to sleep, it’s important to remember that sleep quality has a lot to do with your general stress and anxiety levels during the day as well. It doesn’t matter how closely you are following your routine or how religiously you eat sleep-inducing foods if you are too riled up to relax at the end of the day. Use Spire to help keep stress in check so that you have both the energy and mental space to incorporate healthy changes in your life, including sleep-inducing changes.