If you’re one of the 1 in 3 Americans not getting the sleep you need, you’re probably reaching for every sleep aid you can think of. The one place you may not be looking? Your pantry. 

While you may know that there are certain foods like anything with caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods that can hinder your sleep, other foods can induce 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.

So what foods could make your slumber a little more sound? Here are 10 to put on your plate:

1. Tart cherries

Why take melatonin supplements when you can get them 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 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. 

3. Nuts

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 say. Meanwhile, walnuts are high in tryptophan while almonds are high in magnesium, both of which aid sleep. 

4. Hummus

This may be a surprise food for sleep, 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. 

5. Greens

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. 

6. Bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes

When it comes to nutrients for better sleep, you can’t forget potassium, which you’ll find in these foods. That potassium supports what’s called sleep continuity, reducing the number of times you wake in the middle of the night. 

7. 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.

Diet, of course, is just one part of your sounder slumber plan. Yet combined with sleep hygiene tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, you might just be able to eat your way to more restful nights. 

For more great research-based health content, check out The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles.

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