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What to Eat before Bed - Foods that Help you Sleep

From salmon to almonds, find out which foods have naturally occurring nutrients that can help improve the quality of your sleep – and also what to avoid 

what to eat before bed

No matter how healthy our lifestyle, we can all be tempted by a late-night snack from time to time – but did you know that the consumption of certain foods could have a direct impact on our sleep?

Of course, it’s common knowledge that large meals should be avoided less than 2-3 hours before bed – otherwise you may find yourself suffering from the discomforts of indigestion in the night. As such, most us know we should eat lightly before bedtime, avoiding such stimulants as alcohol and caffeine.

However, there is research that suggests that some specific foodstuffs could have the opposite effect; enhancing the power of our slumber with naturally occurring properties said to promote sleep. For instance, tryptophan – an amino acid that induces sleepiness – and melatonin, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. The brain makes this hormone by converting tryptophan to serotonin and then to melatonin. 

The next time you find yourself craving a twilight snack, give one of these a try – or perhaps combine a few for added effect. 

Sleep-boosting snacks

1. Bananas
A great source of tryptophan, bananas also contain magnesium, a mineral that helps to relax the body’s muscles, while their high-fibre content will keep you feeling full – making you less prone to snacking on unhealthier treats before bed.

2. Honey
Sticky-sweet honey is said to stimulate the release of melatonin in the brain, while also lowering orexin, the wakefulness hormone. Honey is naturally high in sugar, so you don’t need much – try a single teaspoon in some herbal (decaffeinated) tea.

3. Almonds
Full of healthy fats, almonds also contain melatonin and magnesium – an ideal combination, as magnesium regulates melatonin in the body. Magnesium itself is said to help improve sleep quality, with some research claiming that it reduces levels of stress hormone cortisol – a known sleep interrupter.

4. Cherry juice
Packed with melatonin, cherry juice – the tart kind rather than sweet varieties – is also a rich source of antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin C. A glass before bed may improve sleep quality and alleviate insomnia.

foods help sleep

5. Oats
Oats are another good source of the amino acids that promote melatonin. As a rule, carbohydrates are a good food group to snack on before bed, as they boost tryptophan levels in the brain. Look to complex carbohydrates rather than processed ones – oat-rich cereals, for example - as they keep you fuller for longer and tend to be healthier.

6. Fatty fish
Though the health benefits of fatty fish are often lauded, not many know that such varieties as salmon, tuna and mackerel can help promote a restful night’s sleep. Their combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D increases serotonin production, meaning you could fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.

Sleep-stealing snacks

1. Spicy food
A notorious culprit for indigestion, food high in spicy ingredients such as chillies contain capsaicin, which affects your body’s temperature-regulating system – and therefore preventing a peaceful night’s sleep.

2. Cheese
Cheese has a reputation for inducing strange dreams if eaten too close to bedtime. This is most likely due to its tyramine content, which keeps the brain feeling more alert when it should be shutting down.

3. Fast food
Salty, highly processed and full of unhealthy saturated fats, fast food like pizza, fries and burgers are decidedly unhealthy – but also difficult for your stomach to digest. Fats also stimulate acid production in the stomach, meaning you could be prone to heartburn or indigestion if eaten too close to bedtime.

4. Dark chocolate
As well as being bad for our teeth, chocolate – dark chocolate in particular – comes with high percentages of the stimulant caffeine, in addition to theobromine, which can increase the heart rate and cause sleeplessness.