Eats to Help You Sleep

What to Eat and Avoid Before Bed

Everyone has his or her own trick to turn to when it’s hard to fall asleep. For some, it may be a warm glass of milk, for others, a small snack like peanut butter on toast. Different foods can affect your body in different ways, whether it’s fostering sleepiness or increasing alertness. Knowing what can help you fall asleep, and what may keep you up, can help you plan your meals and snacks effectively.

Ian S. Katznelson, MD, a neurology and sleep medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, explained the best – and worst – foods to eat before bed.

Snacks for Sleepiness

Certain nutrients and hormones help promote sleep. Tryptophan, found in turkey and fish, promotes serotonin production. Melatonin (found in dairy and cherries) makes you sleepy, potassium (found in bananas) and magnesium (also found in bananas and almonds) help promote muscle relaxation. Furthermore, many herbs, often found in teas like chamomile and mint are considered sleep inducing, while the dairy in warm milk is effective as well.

Consider the following evening snacks to help you fall asleep:

  • Peanut butter on whole grain bread
  • Lean cheese on whole grain crackers
  • Fortified cereal and milk
  • Almonds
  • Cherries
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt

Preparing dinners that feature turkey or fish as well as complex and whole grain carbohydrates like jasmine rice or sweet potato can also prime your body for bed.

As for whether you should eat before bed, the most recent research suggests when you make smart choices like those listed above a nighttime snack can be beneficial. Complex carbohydrates can keep blood sugar levels stable and sleep solid, while protein can release tryptophan and a little fat, like peanut butter, can slow the absorption of carbohydrates to help you wake up rested.

Foods to Avoid At Night

Simple carbs and saturated fats represent the danger zones for pre-sleep snacks. Both can reduce serotonin and can be difficult to digest. In practice, this means avoiding sweets and sugar, fast food and caffeine – no dark chocolate, burgers, coffee or soda. Alcohol can make you sleepy in the short term, but it can also cause disorganized sleep. Certain spicy foods are also hard to digest and can cause you to wake up throughout the night as well.

How Late Can You Have Caffeine?

Caffeine affects individuals differently, and can do so for hours at a time. Caffeine should always be avoided around bedtime and usually in the evening as well.

“Everyone has different levels of caffeine sensitivity,” says Dr. Katznelson. “In the susceptible individual even caffeine close to 12pm can fragment or disorganize night sleep.”

At the end of the day, maintaining a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates across all meals and not just at night can promote healthy sleep, helping you fall asleep at a regular time and wake up feeling refreshed.