Want a Restful Sleep? Eat These Foods

   By divinecaroline  Nov 29, 2010

About two years ago, I stopped sleeping. Since then, I can count on one hand the number of nights I’ve been able to both fall asleep at a reasonable hour and stay asleep through the night. I’ve tried everything: aromatherapy, cutting out caffeine and alcohol, even sleeping pills. But the only thing I’ve really found to work is modifying my diet to include foods that promote restful sleep and exclude insomnia triggers. Though what you eat for breakfast may not seem like an obvious culprit when you’re trying to determine the causes of sleeplessness, the amount and quality of our nightly rest are directly related to the foods we eat all day. 

The Food-Sleep Connection
What does diet have to do with sleep? Quite a lot, actually. There are two chemicals in the brain that signal to our bodies when it’s time to go to sleep: seratonin and melatonin. The former shuts down the nervous system so our brains can rest, while the latter regulates circadian rhythms and causes drowsiness. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is the raw material the body uses to produce these two sleep hormones. And as with all proteins, the best source of tryptophan is food. For your daily dose of “vitamin T,” munch on dairy and soy products, lean meats, seafood, whole grains, legumes, eggs, and seeds. 

There’s a bit more to inducing sleep with food than just eating a tryptophan-rich diet, though. You also have to make sure the amino acid is available to the brain. High-glycemic foods, carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion, have gotten a bad rap from diet gurus, but they serve an important purpose in promoting restful sleep. High-carb meals stimulate the production of insulin, which helps rid the blood of amino acids that compete with tryptophan and prevent it from reaching the brain. Calcium also helps the brain turn tryptophan into melatonin. Conversely, eating too much protein at meals, especially in the evening, causes us to ingest too many other amino acids, such as tyrosine, which keeps us alert. 

Don’t Dine After Nine
A good rule of thumb to follow when eating for sleep is protein in the morning, carbs at night. But that doesn’t mean you should go overboard on the pasta around 10 p.m. Eating a large meal too close to bedtime, especially one with a high fat content, will have your digestive system working overtime and keep you from falling asleep. Also, eating a purely carbohydrate meal late at night will launch you on the blood-sugar roller coaster and cause your body to release stress hormones that will keep you awake. When you eat is just as important as, if not more important than, what you eat, so heed the old adage “don’t dine after nine.”

A good diet that gets you to sleep at a reasonable hour and helps you stay asleep through the night requires you to carefully distribute your carbs and protein throughout the day. This may seem like a lot to keep track of at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after a while, and the reward will be restful sleep. An added bonus: the same eating plan is recommended to boost metabolism and aid weight loss. 

  • For breakfast and lunch, choose high-protein, medium-carbohydrate meals. These should constitute the bulk of your daily calories, since you’ll want to eat lightly later in the day. Since most of us are most active in the morning and early afternoon, that’s when we need our fuel.
  • Dinner and bedtime snacks should be just the opposite: high in carbohydrates with a small amount of protein. Choose complex carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar level stable and tryptophan-rich sources of protein to balance your amino acids. Try to include some calcium, too, like the old standby of a warm glass of milk.
  • Eat your evening meal early, with a light snack about an hour before bedtime (the amount of time it takes tryptophan to reach the brain). This combination will stave off hunger pangs that might wake you in the middle of the night, while ensuring that your body has completed all its major digestive work and is ready for sleep. Great snack choices include whole-grain cereal with skim milk, an apple with string cheese, or a slice of whole-wheat toast with almond butter.
  • Avoid foods that cause discomfort. Many people are prone to acid reflux, and the pain of heartburn keeps them awake after eating certain meals, like highly spiced dishes. If this is you, nix that bean enchilada. For others, food can trigger headaches. And there are conditions that may be causing you mild discomfort without your fully realizing the connection, like allergies with gastrointestinal symptoms. Pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel, and plan your diet accordingly. You may want to try an elimination diet, cutting out common irritants like wheat and processed sugar for a week at a time, to see if there’s any consequent change in your sleep.
  • Consider your coffee intake. Caffeine is a strong stimulant with a long half-life. The amount of time it takes for the body to fully excrete a cup of joe varies wildly among different people, based on age, medications, liver function, and pregnancy. Most health advisors will tell you to stop drinking coffee after noon to keep it from disturbing your sleep, but I’ve found that I need to cut out caffeine completely to get my shut-eye, and I’m not alone. Remember that there are other sources of caffeine besides coffee, too. That after-dinner piece of dark chocolate may be delicious and satisfying, but it may also leave you wide awake at 3 a.m.
  • If you booze, you won’t snooze. Alcohol is a depressant that relaxes you, so it must aid sleep, right? Wrong. Though it does induce drowsiness, alcohol prevents you from entering the deep stages of sleep. This reduces the overall quality of your rest and often causes you to wake in the middle of the night. So ditch the nightcap and opt for that glass of milk instead.
  • Don’t drink too much liquid too late, unless, of course, you want to make five trips to the potty in the course of the night. Water also wakes you up, so drink the bulk of your eight to ten glasses earlier in the day and shut off the faucet after 9 p.m.

The Beauty of Restful Sleep

I know, I know?these are a lot of rules to follow. But they’re tried-and-true methods for knocking out insomnia. You might not see immediate effects, but after a few days of following this sleep diet, you’ll see the benefits of truly restful sleep: more energy, higher metabolism, better skin and nails, and uplifted mood. Of course, if you find yourself lying awake night after night, you should check with your doctor to rule out any serious underlying problems. But for most of us facing sleeplessness, the best weapon against insomnia is a fork.

Make a Comment

forevergirl29 by forevergirl29 | KENT, OH
May 11, 2011

I find that having a cup of hot herbal tea puts me to sleep and I wake up refreshed. I also try not to eat anything after 8 PM, especially anything with caffeine. Sweet dreams to all.

Philomena6 by Philomena6 | Tonawanda, NY
Dec 23, 2010

i dont believe any foods will help when your menopausal or post menopausal, i havent slept a full night since going through menopause 5 years ago and dont think ill ever again sigh............

kjc1969 by kjc1969 | Falmouth, KY
Dec 09, 2010

I get little or no sleep on a regular basis. I also have crohns disease. I will deffinately use this information. Maybe it will help with both,

MyEmptyCanvas by MyEmptyCanvas | KOSCIUSKO, MS
Dec 05, 2010

It'd be hard for me to give up my night time snack.... been doing that for years... *sigh* LoL

Livestrong11 by Livestrong11 | BURTON, MI
Dec 03, 2010

We eat a ton of ground turkey burger, does this have the same result as eating a big piece of turkey??

Ahyden by Ahyden | LOVELAND, OH
Dec 03, 2010

Thanks for the great information!

pitbullmom4 by pitbullmom4 | POWAY, CA
Nov 30, 2010

Thank you for this article!

TM2020 by TM2020 | Winthrop, MA
Nov 30, 2010

My best remedy that helped me even when I wake up restless in the middle of the night is warm milk with honey. They only thing that I hate is the aftertaste of milk acid I feel in my mouth, but otherwise it's an awesome sleep beverage

lulu1959 by lulu1959 | Statesboro, GA
Nov 30, 2010

Thanks for this wonderful information on sleep-inducing foods. I've heard that turkey is also a sleep-inducing. It is said that it has natural properties that induces sleep. Although I eat turkey, it's not one of my most favorite foods: but if it's going to help me sleep soundly I'm all for it! Has anyone else heard anything about the natural properties of turkey?

1SwtWrld by 1SwtWrld | GRASONVILLE, MD
Nov 30, 2010

Wow I suffer from migraines and have tried every migraine medicine they make now if there is a certain food i can eat to stop my migraines i will be simply amazed, i am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this kinda stuff, but heck i was a guniea pig with medicine for ever why not give this a try....i surely will be giving my feed back....

abhcinnywife by abhcinnywife | FULTON, NY
Nov 29, 2010

I have the most awful time falling asleep and staying asleep. My doc finally diagnosed me with severe depression, anxiety, panic disorder and insomnia. The meds that he gave me, they helped for a while. But, it has started to get to a point again where I will lay there for hours and not be able to shut off my mind. I will definitely look at this list also, and I will try anything at this point to help this go away. I know my sleep deprivation has a lot to do with the other things that I am battling, so conquering that would be huge! Thank you for posting this!

aburgstede by aburgstede | Delavan, WI
Nov 29, 2010

I suffer from migraines and the majority of my migraines come in the middle of the night and I wake from the pain. I will definitely look at the list of recommended foods for restful sleep...anything is worth a try.