Tired? 10 Plant-Based Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better at Night
If you’re one of the 1 in 3 Americans not getting the sleep you need, you’re probably reaching for every sleep aid or ritual you can think of. The one place you may not be looking: Your pantry. While you know there are certain foods like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy pepper that can hinder sleep patterns, there are other foods that can actually help you sleep.
“Sleep-wake cycles follow a rhythm, and if your nutrition is lacking, that rhythm may not be as robust,” says Ellen Wermter, board-certified family nurse practitioner and spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council. She counsels patients to change their diet when sleep eludes them.
There are ways to sleep better, such as turning off blue light sources before bed (including screens such as your computer or your phone) and avoiding added sugar and junk foods. Check out these 4 Tips to Sleep Better and wake up feeling refreshed. Try dietary changes as well as proven sleep hygiene tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, to experience more restful nights and more energetic days.
So what foods should you add to your diet to help you sleep better? Here are 10 to put on your plate, today to feel more rested and refreshed tomorrow:
The 10 Best Foods That Help With Sleep
1. Tart cherries
Why take melatonin supplements when you can get the same effect naturally? Tart cherries and their juice are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone secreted by your brain that helps regulate your natural sleep cycle. As darkness approaches, your body's melatonin production ramps up to prep you for sleep. Light decreases melatonin production, signaling your body to be awake.
Studies show that drinking tart cherry juice or just eating cherries can encourage melatonin production. In one study from the American Journal of Therapeutics, for instance, Montmorency tart cherry juice helped extend sleep time by 84 minutes among adults 50 and up who suffered from insomnia. They drank eight ounces in the morning as well as one to two hours before bed. Tart cherries also contain magnesium and increase the bioavailability of tryptophan, the famous sleep inducer, Wermter says.
2. Dried apricots
Get a healthy dose of magnesium when you eat dried apricots. Lack of magnesium can actually mess up your sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation. Having enough on board can help you either fall or stay asleep, as research has demonstrated. Magnesium’s sleep-inducing benefits include muscle relaxation and calming the nervous system, Wermter says. While you can get magnesium from supplements, the Sleep Foundation recommends using the food-first approach and adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet.
Yes, you should go nuts about nuts if you want to sleep better. Which nuts are best? Pistachios are high in B6 which is necessary for making melatonin and serotonin. That serotonin is used to synthesize melatonin and plays a role in mood, which affects sleep. As it builds in your brain, it also helps with sleep initiation, Wermter says. Meanwhile, walnuts are high in tryptophan while almonds are high in magnesium, both of which aid sleep. So if you are looking for foods for better sleep, snack on mixed nuts.
This may be a surprising food that can help you sleep better, but the protein and fiber in hummus help stabilize your blood sugar, and blood sugar fluctuations can negatively affect sleep. Wermter’s advice? Pair hummus with whole grain crackers so the carbohydrates will cause an insulin spike to make you sleepy while the garbanzo beans will regulate blood sugar for better staying power.
You know you need to eat your greens, but what you may not know is that all of the dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and chard are full of essential vitamins and calcium which buddy up with tryptophan to make melatonin. Another reason calcium is key? “Low calcium levels are thought to disrupt REM sleep,” she says.
When it comes to nutrients for better sleep, you can’t forget potassium, which you’ll find in bananas. That potassium is known to support what’s called sleep continuity, reducing the number of times you wake in the middle of the night and is also a natural muscle relaxant.
A study showed that among people with hypertension, lower potassium levels are associated with what's known as sleep architecture disruption. Whether you have hypertension or not, eating half a banana a day for potassium is a good idea to help your body balance out the minerals it needs, and may lead to longer, more restorative sleep. Bananas are also rich in tryptophan and magnesium, both linked to deeper, better sleep.
Avocados are actually higher than bananas in potassium, and also pack in some magnesium to help you sleep soundly. Magnesium has been shown to boost γ-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps you calm down. Combine avocados with complex carbohydrates like a whole wheat piece of toast for an excellent before-bed snack.
8. Sweet potatoes
Another plant packed with the natural sleep supplements potassium and magnesium, sweet potatoes also contain calcium, which culminates in a trio of nutrients that will help you relax better. Consider that sweet potatoes also contain complex carbohydrates, and you've got the perfect nightcap snack that will help you wind down, naturally.
9. Kiwi Fruit
Kiwi is a rich source of vitamin C, with about a quarter of your daily recommended value for the essential vitamin, and getting more means your body can fight inflammation, strengthen immunity, lower cholesterol and be healthier overall, which improves your sleep quality.
In a sleep study that looked at the effects of eating kiwi on sleep quality, 24 subjects (2 males and 22 females, between the ages of 20 and 55) consumed two kiwifruits within an hour before bedtime nightly for four weeks. The subjects kept sleep diaries and recorded that when they measured both waking time after sleep onset (how long they slept) and sleep onset latency (how long it took them to go to sleep) were significantly decreased, or improved (42.4%) just by eating kiwi fruit before bed.
10. Herbal chamomile tea
Chamomile has long been used for its relaxing properties. Now add better sleep to the list of reasons to sip up. What’s the connection? “Chamomile tea has glycine, an amino acid that can help regular temperature for better sleep,” Wermter says. It may even help reduce muscle spasms and relax your nerves, allowing for better slumber.
Bottom Line: Eat Any of These 10 Foods Before Bed Helps You Sleep Better
Changing up your diet is an effective way to improve your sleep quality. Staying away from junk food and eating more of these plant-based foods can help you get better, more restful sleep.
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