There aren’t many things better than a solid night’s sleep. Am I right? Sleep is incredibly important to proper health. Unfortunately, modern stress has severely messed with our sleep cycles and natural circadian rhythms. Traffic, work demands, constant notifications on our devices even something as simple as what to make for dinner can cause stress. (Who hasn’t experienced a minor melt down not knowing what to make for dinner—yeah, been there). These stressors can easily deplete our energy stores and take a toll on our body’s normal functions like sleep.
“Our body needs cues from our internal clock and our environment to be ready to go to sleep,” explains Kristin Hoddy, PhD, who has a background in nutrition research with a focus on sleep. “You’d be surprised how much just having a regular bedtime routine and consistent wake times can help.“
But along with that good sleep hygiene, incorporating a few key foods into your diet may help you improve your sleep quality. Here are five foods that can help you achieve a better night’s sleep as well as what foods to avoid.
One serving of almonds provides 19 percent of your daily magnesium intake; magnesium is associated with improved sleep and may help fight insomnia. Almonds also contain the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, which can improve sleep efficiency Grab a handful (which is roughly equivalent to a serving size of one ounce) or a spoonful of almond butter before bed for a nighttime snack.
#2 Baked sweet potatoes
Baked sweet potatoes are a great dinnertime side dish if you want to get a good night’s sleep. A sweet potato that’s been baked for 45 minutes has a glycemic index of 94, and research has shown that eating high GI carbohydrates before bed can shorten sleep onset.
Since sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate, your body digests them slowly ultimately providing a steady stream of energy your body needs to make it through the night while it fasts until breakfast. Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium, an electrolyte that helps muscles relax. Finally, sweet potatoes also promote the secretion of GABA in the brain, which is a relaxation-inducing neurotransmitter. One potato, two potato, three potato, snore!
Too late to cook a full dinner meal? Take one half of a baked sweet potato and slather it in a heaping spoonful (or two) of your favorite nut butter (I prefer almond butter, see point above). It’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory!
According to some research, there’s a positive correlation between fish consumption and sleep quality. Low-mercury fish and seafood like anchovies, sole, tilapia and wild-caught salmon contain a particular omega-3 called DHA, which supports and normalizes melatonin, the sleep hormone. Whether you add anchovies to your dinner salad or cook up a filet of your favorite fish, low-mercury fish can help you achieve a better night’s sleep.
#4 Magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium is pure magic. We need it for roughly 300 processes in our body, yet many of us are severely lacking in it. Since this mineral promotes relaxation and reduces stress (hello, epsom salt bath), look to add magnesium-rich foods to your dinner plate, some which have already been listed in this article. You can also try:
- Brown rice
- Peanut butter
- Pumpkin seeds
A nightly cup or two of tea, without the caffeine of course, can be a perfect complement to your nighttime ritual.
Many folk remedies recommend drinking chamomile tea before bed. Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in your brain and might promote sleep and reduce insomnia. One small study found that consuming chamomile extract may have helped participants fall asleep faster and experience less nighttime waking, while another study found that post-partum women who drank chamomile tea before bed reported improved sleep quality and alleviated depression symptoms compared to a control group.
Or, passionflower tea could be another herbal option to add to your tea collection. Like chamomile, passionflower tea contains apigenin, which might reduce anxiety. Passionflower tea might also increase the production of GABA and thus reduce stress and possibly improve your perceived sleep quality.
Some great bedtime tea options I enjoy include chamomile, ginger, lavender and peppermint.
Foods to avoid
Now that you know which foods can help you improve your sleep quality, be sure to avoid some of the biggest offenders that can seriously mess with your sleep cycle. Foods to avoid for a better night’s sleep include:
- Alcohol (although alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, studies show drinking alcohol disrupts your restorative REM sleep)
- Fried, processed, or spicy foods, which can take longer to digest and keep you up at night
- Sugar (a high sugar intake is associated with more restless sleep)
Remember: food is only a part of your sleep quality
Important to note: just eating (or avoiding) certain foods isn’t enough on its own to ensure a good night of sleep.
“While some specific foods and supplements may be linked with improved sleep, aiming for a mix of healthy foods and getting regular exercise is important, not just for sleep, but overall health too,” explains Hoddy.
Tag us @asweatlife so we can see what foods help you sleep better at night. Additional reporting by Kristen Geil.