Not getting a good night’s sleep can make you grumpy and unable to function properly the next day. But if you think that’s bad, you haven’t heard the worst yet. Regularly missing sleep can put you at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. And that’s aside from affecting your mood, energy levels, and productivity.
So how much sleep should you be getting? On average, an adult needs between 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. If you’re not getting enough, simple measures like sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and steering clear of large meals before bedtime are known to help.1 And there’s a secret weapon you might not have considered – some foods may actually help you sleep better! Here’s what you need to explore:
1. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries taste sumptuous and are rich in health-boosting antioxidants. But the cherry on the cake? They help you sleep better. One study found that people who consumed tart cherry juice concentrate for a week significantly improved their total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and time spent in bed.
The secret ingredient that makes tart cherries work well as a sleep aid is melatonin. Melatonin, a hormone made in the human body, is also present in tart cherries. The production of this hormone in your body is triggered by darkness and it regulates your sleep cycle. When melatonin levels are high, you feel sleepy and when their levels fall during daylight you feel more alert.2 So if you’ve been suffering from disturbed sleep, try some tart cherry juice. You could follow the pattern in the study and have cherry juice twice a day, once in the day and once before bedtime.3 4
2. Pumpkin Seeds
The seeds of pumpkins, which belong to the same family as gourds, contain an important amino acid called tryptophan which promotes sleep. Tryptophan plays a part in the synthesis of serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin by your body.5 One study which lasted for three weeks found that when people suffering from insomnia had gourd seeds rich in tryptophan along with a carbohydrate, it significantly reduced the time that they spent awake during the night. Having carbs alongside tryptophan-rich foods is important because they help improve the transport of tryptophan to your brain.6 So tonight, try a snack of pumpkin seeds and baked potato for a night of sound sleep.
3. Cow’s Milk
Turns out that grandma’s remedy actually does work! A glass of warm milk may help you get a restful night’s sleep. That’s because cow’s milk contains both the hormone melatonin and the amino acid tryptophan. But here’s the catch – one study found that night milk, which is milk obtained by milking cows at night, was much more effective than day milk. Night milk was found to have much higher levels of tryptophan and melatonin than day milk. But if you can’t get hold of night milk, just try a soothing glass of plain warm milk. That should help too!7
Another common food that may help you sleep better is the banana. One study found that elderly people with high blood pressure were able to fall asleep sooner when they consumed a variety of bananas called Ambon banana. Bananas contain tryptophan and are also rich in carbs, making it a great snack for a good night’s sleep. So, if you lie awake at nights counting sheep, try having a couple of bananas before you go to bed.8
If you love snacking on walnuts, here’s one more reason to keep it going! These nutritious nuts contain melatonin as well as serotonin – two compounds that are key ingredients in the recipe for a good night’s sleep.9
6. Jasmine Rice
According to one study, having a meal that includes jasmine rice may help you fall asleep sooner. But the timing of the meal’s important too. The study found that consuming a meal of this staple cereal 4 hours before bedtime worked much better than consuming it an hour before bedtime. So how does jasmine rice work its magic? It’s a good source of high-glycemic index carbohydrates. The glycemic index of a carbohydrate is a number that indicates how rapidly it increases blood sugar – the higher the number the quicker it works. We already know that carbs help increase tryptophan levels. Turns out that a high-glycemic index carb works much better than a low-glycemic index carb.10
But a caveat here. Regularly consuming jasmine rice may not be the best way to improve sleep. Rapid spikes in your blood sugar can be harmful if you have diabetes or are at risk for it.11 So reserve this for the odd day.
Yes, a piece of fish could help you sleep better! Salmon contains vitamin D as well as omega 3 fatty acids. And research indicates that both these ingredients impact sleep positively.12 One study even found that children who were supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid, which is a kind of omega 3 fatty acid, slept an average of 58 minutes more and woke up 7 times less per night.13
8. Kiwi Fruit
Kiwi fruits contain serotonin and beneficial antioxidants that may improve sleep. One study found that having 2 kiwi fruits an hour before bedtime for a month significantly improved how quickly participants fell asleep and how long they slept. Even mid-sleep waking up reduced considerably.14 These yummy fruits may hold the key to that restful night you’ve been craving for.
You may already know that lettuce, the leafy green, can benefit your health in many ways. But here’s a surprising perk you wouldn’t have considered. This go-to ingredient in salads can also help you sleep better – thanks to a compound called lactucarium which has sedative as well as pain-relieving properties.15
Here’s an unlikely candidate that may help you sleep better! According to research, a kind of tannin known as phlorotannin found in brown seaweed can induce sleep by modulating the receptors of neurotransmitters that regulate sleep.16 In fact, a Japanese study that looked at the sleep patterns of older people found that those with good sleep health consumed more seaweed compared to those with poor sleep health.17 So try a snack of exotic seaweeds the next time you have sleepless nights!
Almonds contain both tryptophan and carbs. They also have magnesium, which relaxes your muscles and plays an important role in regulating sleep.18 All in all, an unbeatable combination when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Snack on a handful and drift off…19
12. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is a tried and tested remedy for sleepless nights. It contains a flavonoid known as apigenin which may induce sleep by binding to benzodiazepine receptors in your brain. To make a cup of chamomile tea, steep 2–3 teaspoons of dried chamomile in a cup of boiling water for around 10–15 minutes.20 21
|↑1||Your Guide To Healthy Sleep. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||MELATONIN AND SLEEP. NATIONAL SLEEP FOUNDATION.|
|↑3||Losso, Jack N., John W. Finley, Namrata Karki, Ann G. Liu, Alfredo Prudente, Russell Tipton, Ying Yu, and Frank L. Greenway. “Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms.” American journal of therapeutics (2017).|
|↑4||Howatson, Glyn, Phillip G. Bell, Jamie Tallent, Benita Middleton, Malachy P. McHugh, and Jason Ellis. “Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.” European journal of nutrition 51, no. 8 (2012): 909-916.|
|↑5||Get a Good Night’s Sleep. The Sleep Council.|
|↑6||Hudson, Craig, Susan Patricia Hudson, Tracy Hecht, and Joan MacKenzie. “Protein source tryptophan versus pharmaceutical grade tryptophan as an efficacious treatment for chronic insomnia.” Nutritional neuroscience 8, no. 2 (2005): 121-127.|
|↑7||Valtonen, M. A. I. J. A., L. Niskanen, ANTTI-PEKKA Kangas, and T. E. U. V. O. Koskinen. “Effect of melatonin-rich night-time milk on sleep and activity in elderly institutionalized subjects.” Nordic journal of psychiatry 59, no. 3 (2005): 217-221.|
|↑8||Ristania, Selvi Ria, Martianawati Martianawati, Stefanus Supriyanto, and Rudi Irawan. “The Effect of Consuming Ambon Banana (Musa paradisiaca Var. Sapientum) on Sleep Latency of Elderly Hypertension.” Health Notions 1, no. 2 (2017): 86-89.|
|↑9||Zeng, Yawen, Jiazhen Yang, Juan Du, Xiaoying Pu, Xiaomen Yang, Shuming Yang, and Tao Yang. “Strategies of functional foods promote sleep in human being.” Current signal transduction therapy 9, no. 3 (2014): 148-155.|
|↑10||Afaghi, Ahmad, Helen O’connor, and Chin Moi Chow. ” High-glycemic -index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85, no. 2 (2007): 426-430.|
|↑11||A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑12||Hansen, Anita L., Lisbeth Dahl, Gina Olson, David Thornton, Ingvild E. Graff, Livar Frøyland, Julian F. Thayer, and Staale Pallesen. “Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine 10, no. 5 (2014): 567.|
|↑13||Montgomery, Paul, Jennifer R. Burton, Richard P. Sewell, Thees F. Spreckelsen, and Alexandra J. Richardson. “Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study–a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of sleep research 23, no. 4 (2014): 364-388.|
|↑14||Lin, Hsiao-Han, Pei-Shan Tsai, Su-Chen Fang, and Jen-Fang Liu. “Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 20, no. 2 (2011): 169-174.|
|↑15||Anilakumar, KR, S.N. Harsha, Mallesha, and R.K. Sharma. “Lettuce: a Promising leafy Vegetable with functional Properties”. Defence Life Science Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 2017, pp. 178-185, DOI : 10.14429/dlsj.2.11357.|
|↑16||Cho, Suengmok, Hyejin Yang, You-Jin Jeon, C. Justin Lee, Young-Ho Jin, Nam-In Baek, Dongsoo Kim et al. “Phlorotannins of the edible brown seaweed Ecklonia cava Kjellman induce sleep via positive allosteric modulation of gamma-aminobutyric acid type A–benzodiazepine receptor: A novel neurological activity of seaweed polyphenols.” Food chemistry 132, no. 3 (2012): 1133-1142.|
|↑17||Taira, Kazuhiko, Hideki Tanaka, Masashi Arakawa, Naoki Nagahama, Miyoko Uza, and Shuichiro Shirakawa. “Sleep health and lifestyle of elderly people in Ogimi, a village of longevity.” Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences 56, no. 3 (2002): 243-244.|
|↑18||Abbasi, Behnood, Masud Kimiagar, Khosro Sadeghniiat, Minoo M. Shirazi, Mehdi Hedayati, and Bahram Rashidkhani. “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 17, no. 12 (2012): 1161.|
|↑19||Full Report (All Nutrients): 12063, Nuts, almonds, dry roasted, without salt added. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑20||German chamomile. Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.|
|↑21||Srivastava, Janmejai K., Eswar Shankar, and Sanjay Gupta. “Chamomile: a herbal medicine of the past with a bright future.” Molecular medicine reports 3, no. 6 (2010): 895-901.|