Not Getting Enough Sleep? It May Be Your Diet

Discover foods that can help you get a good night’s sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential, and not simply to help you pay attention and be in a good mood the next day. A variety of studies show that not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain, increases in risk-seeking behaviors and a greater risk of developing dementia.

It’s also critical that you’re getting the right type of sleep. There are different levels of sleep, and one of the most important is REM sleep. This is the level of sleep at which your body is able to repair damaged cells and help you work through emotional issues.

Not getting enough REM sleep, which is the deepest level of sleep, prevents you from getting the rest and recovery you require from sleep. This can leave you feeling exhausted even if you slept for a full eight hours. The good news is that a variety of foods can help you get to sleep and stay asleep.

Foods that promote good sleep

Some foods help you get restful sleep because they contain things that your body needs to help you relax, get to sleep and stay asleep long enough to enter REM sleep.

Foods with a high glycemic index

Generally speaking, you are told to avoid foods with a high glycemic index because they cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash. This crash causes you to become very tired, which you want to avoid during the day, but it can help you get to sleep at night.

While you may be able to accomplish getting a sugar crash with a candy bar or piece of cake, your goal should be to eat something with complex carbohydrates that are good for you and won’t lead to weight gain. Whole wheat breads and cereals or pretzels are generally good choices to help improve your sleep.

  • Calcium

There’s a reason that mothers and grandmothers often give kids a glass of warm milk if they are having trouble sleeping. Researchers have discovered that the calcium in milk, and many types of dairy, can help you fall asleep and remain asleep for longer periods of time. This means that you’re more likely to get sufficient levels of REM sleep once you do drift off.

Along with dairy, many leafy greens have high levels of calcium. If you’re not interested in milk or cheese before bed, a salad with greens like kale or spinach can be a good alternative.

  • Magnesium

Another thing you should look for in food to help you get to sleep is magnesium. Researchers have discovered that foods with magnesium can help people with insomnia because it is a natural sedative. It helps muscles relax, and it also helps with calcium absorption. It is very important to your quality of sleep; in fact, poor sleep is one sign of magnesium deficiency. Foods that are natural sources of magnesium include almonds, pistachios and bananas.

  • Melatonin

Your body produces melatonin naturally, and it is produced in the evening when your body needs to wind down and sleep. However, in the last few years, researchers have discovered that there appears to be a connection between melatonin production and diet.

One experiment involved having people drink tart cherry juice, which contains melatonin. Those who drank the juice were found to have higher levels of both serotonin and melatonin. It was also found that those who drank the cherry juice had better sleep efficiency and slept longer.

In addition to tart cherries, other foods that contain melatonin are dried plums and walnuts.

  • Tryptophan

Although tryptophan can help you get to sleep, its efficacy is somewhat overstated. Many people believe that this component of turkey is what leads to people feeling very sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. However, researchers have discovered that it’s not actually the tryptophan in turkey that’s leading to post-dinner sleepiness.

It’s actually attributed to a number of things, including the volume of food that people eat on this holiday and the fact that much of the foods being consumed are carbohydrate-rich. Tryptophan can help you feel sleepy, but it needs to be paired with carbohydrates to be absorbed into the body.

Most meats and fish contain tryptophan, and the most significant source of it is elk. Walnuts and chickpeas are also sources of tryptophan.

  • Chamomile tea

Many people swear by tea as a way to help them relax. The warmth from tea can be soothing, but it’s important to select the right tea to drink before you attempt to fall asleep. There are a large number of teas with caffeine in them; black and green teas, in particular, may keep you up even after the warmth of the tea relaxes you.

Chamomile tea is considered by a number of experts to be the best choice if you have trouble sleeping. It has been shown to help people relax, and it acts as a mild sedative because of the flavonoid apigenin. The tea is also associated with an increase in glycine, which is a chemical that relaxes both nerves and muscles. Drinking this tea before bed can also ensure that you’re hydrated. Being dehydrated can make it hard for you to drift off or stay asleep.

To get the most out of a cup of chamomile tea, brew a cup about 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed.

Foods to avoid if you struggle with sleep

As there are a number of foods that can help you fall asleep, there are also many foods that will prevent you from falling or staying asleep. If you’re looking for a restful night, here are some foods to avoid eating within a few hours of bedtime.

  • Caffeine

Avoiding caffeine before heading to bed is obvious, but you may not be aware that caffeine can remain in your system for up to 10 hours. The latte you have at 3 p.m. to keep you going at work may keep you up until 1 a.m.

It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that there are many drinks and even foods that contain caffeine. A warm cup of tea before bed might seem like a great way to help you relax and sleep well, but black tea and green tea both contain enough caffeine to make it hard for you to get to sleep.

Chocolate also contains a substantial amount of caffeine. Dark chocolate, in particular, can keep you from nodding off. A bar of dark chocolate can contain as much caffeine as half an espresso shot.

  • Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an important part of your diet, but too much of it, especially close to your bedtime, can make it hard for you to sleep. This vitamin allows your body to convert food into glucose, which gives you energy. Energy during the day is great, but it can be one of the last things you want at night.

Many energy drinks, which you should be avoiding near bedtime anyway, have very high levels of B12. Most meats have moderate levels of B12, and fish and shellfish tend to be rich in it. You can have a meat or fish meal for lunch, instead of dinner, to get your fill without disturbing your sleep at night.

  • Spicy foods

Foods with many spices in them don’t necessarily contain anything that will keep you from falling asleep, but they frequently cause digestion issues. A grumbling stomach or one that’s hurting will keep you from being able to stay asleep or sleep deeply enough to achieve REM sleep.

Eat right to improve your sleep

Whether you struggle to get to sleep or remain asleep, the right food choices can make a significant difference in how you feel. By avoiding foods late in the day that will keep you up at night, and by eating the right types of foods before you go to bed, you can be happier, stay more alert and improve your quality of life.

For more tips and methods for living your best life, check out our section on Health and Wellness. Along with a variety of articles on improving your mental and physical health, you’ll also find tips on ways to reduce your stress levels to make falling asleep easier.

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