If it’s difficult for you to get a restful night of sleep every night, you're not alone: According to the CDC, one in three adults in the United States sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night. Insomnia is linked to a variety of causes, including ill health, aging, and stress, according to Columbia University’s Neurology Department. But good sleep also has a lot to do with what we eat.

A new and growing body of research suggests that many foods can help you sleep. Powerful nutrients from the food in your diet can play a role in how much sleep you get and how high-quality it is, according to a 2017 report published in Public Health Nutrition. The literature review analyzed 26 articles about how micronutrients impacted sleep development of sleep stages in infants and could reverse age-related changes in sleep in older adults. Sleep duration was positively linked with iron, zinc, and magnesium levels while negatively associated with copper, potassium, and vitamin B12 levels. So, what should you eat before bed to sleep better? Here are five plant-based foods to help you sleep better.

5 natural ways to help you sleep better

Add foods rich in these five nutrients to your diet to help improve your sleep quality.

1. Iron

Research has shown that iron deficiency has been linked to sleep disorders. A 2020 review published in Sleep Medicine Reviews suggests that iron investigation and supplementation should be considered for patients with sleep disorders. Iron deficiency is also an underlying cause of restless leg syndrome, which can lead to sleep issues, says the National Institute of Health. “Foods high in iron include dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, dried fruits such as raisins and apricots, beans, iron-fortified cereals, bread, pasta, and peas,” says Michelle Zive, R.D., a registered dietician and NASM-CNC co-author. Dried fruit is delicious on top of oatmeal or as a quick dessert.

2. Magnesium

“Magnesium can help the body and brain relax by regulating neurotransmitters which send signals to the nervous system and brain. It also regulates melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for guiding the sleep-wake cycles,” says Zive. A 2019 study published in Nutrients found that short sleep is linked to increased nutrient inadequacy, including low levels of magnesium. Therefore, the authors of the study emphasize the need for dietary supplementation to increase restful sleep. Zive says the foods highest in magnesium include nuts (soy, almonds, cashews), and seeds (flaxseed), leafy green vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Protein-rich nuts and seeds are perfect to go with every meal – throw them on top of a salad or have them as a snack.

3. Tryptophan

Tryptophan, found in a variety of foods, is an essential amino acid that can help you get that much-needed rest. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology improved objective sleep efficiency and objective wake after sleep onset in each of the variable groups. “Tryptophan, 45 minutes before bedtime, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep,” says Zive. If you’re looking to get that snooze time quickly, try adding one or more of the following foods an hour before you go to bed: chocolate, oats, cheese, nuts and seeds, bread, and fruits like bananas and apples. Dark chocolate, with high cocoa content, is not only a semi-sweet treat but also is great for brain health.

4. Vitamin B6

If you want to get dreams at night, vitamin B6 might be your best bet. Also known as pyridoxine, it is grouped with the other B vitamins as it is essential for your health and wellbeing. Evidence shows that eating foods with vitamin B6 before bedtime can increase the amount of dream content and give a restful slumber, according to a 2018 study published in Perceptual Motor Skills. Foods rich in Vitamin B6 include avocado, chickpeas, spinach, green peas, cereals, and sweet potato, according to USDA Food Data Central. Try an avocado smoothie or lentil soup packed with nutritious powerhouses for a dreamy night!

5. Zinc

After iron, zinc is the second most abundant trace metal in the human body, says the National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. A 2017 literature review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences examined how zinc acts as a dietary modulator. Evidence from studies showed that even though the association is a bit unclear, zinc plays a role in the regulation of sleep, and zinc deficiency may lead to poor sleep. “Top food sources of Zinc include whole grains, beans, nuts, and fortified breakfast cereals,” says Zinc. A bean salad or brown rice are perfect sides for your dinner before bedtime.

Bottom Line: Adding foods rich in iron, magnesium, tryptophan, vitamin B6, and zinc to your diet can help you sleep better.

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