Having trouble sleeping? Wondering if this is your diet? Or is it better if there are certain foods that help you fall asleep each night?

Research shows that getting enough, quality sleep is an important part of good health and is important for weight loss, muscle gain, recovery, and overall well-being. So we’ve broken down how your diet can help or hurt your sleep patterns by listing the best and worst foods for sleep based on research.

What makes you sleepy?
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by your body that is thought to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your levels rise closer to bedtime and fall after waking up. How much and when you produce it is closely related to your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and how much light you’re exposed to—in other words, sunset helps your body know when it’s time to sleep soon by promoting melatonin production. (1).

But how does food affect this process?

Melatonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, a common component of many foods. But research isn’t clear on how much diet affects your ability to sleep. Some studies suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrients can improve sleep quality (4,5,6,7,8). Eating certain foods before bed can increase available melatonin or help melatonin production (9,10).

On the other hand, not getting enough sleep affects the hormones that regulate your appetite (11,12). Not to mention, lack of sleep can hinder your ability and desire to exercise.

While food is unlikely to have as much of an impact on sleep as exposure to light and circadian rhythms, if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, eating more sleep-promoting foods before bed won’t do any harm.

The best food for sleep
Most “sleepy” foods are natural sources of melatonin, high in the amino acid tryptophan, or contain essential nutrients that play a role in melatonin production.

Based on existing research, these foods promote sleep quality and duration.

  1. Tart cherry juice
    Tart cherry juice is a natural source of melatonin, and studies have shown that consumption of tart cherry concentrates can improve sleep quality and duration in healthy men and women (13). More interestingly, several studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice can reduce insomnia symptoms and increase sleep time by 90 minutes in older adults (14,15,16).

Although these studies are not conclusive, they are promising. This, combined with the additional health benefits associated with tart cherry juice, including beneficial nutrients, reduced muscle soreness, and immune support, make it a great option to try (17,18)!

  1. Almonds
    Almonds are also a source of melatonin and are considered a sleep-promoting food (19). In fact, nuts contain the most melatonin of all plant sources (20).

Almonds are a great source of sleep-promoting supplements. One serving (1 ounce) of almonds provides 19% of the daily value for magnesium, an important mineral that can improve sleep quality and stress when consumed in sufficient amounts (21,22,23).

Additionally, almond oil is a source of fatty acids used to produce oleamide, which accumulates during sleep deprivation and helps induce sleep in animals (24,25,26). In one study, researchers concluded that oleic acid is particularly beneficial for sleep disorders in people with depression (27).

  1. Turkey
    We’ve all experienced a post-Thanksgiving food coma that led to turkey being the culprit. In this case, it’s likely that the amount of food you ate had more to do with lowering your blood sugar, but the turkey sleep theory still has some merit.

Turkey is a good source of tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin and then melatonin (28,29,30). Some studies have also shown that increasing dietary tryptophan has been linked to improved sleep (31). Although tryptophan provides the nutrients needed to produce more melatonin, that doesn’t mean that’s what happens when you eat a lot of turkey. Tryptophan promotes sleep rather than inducing sleep.

Either way, turkey is a very nutritious meal and worth adding to your dinner! And bonus, all poultry, not just turkey, is a source of tryptophan.

  1. Salmon
    Fatty fish, such as salmon, are the highest animal sources of melatonin (33,34).

Salmon is also a nutritious protein choice and provides plenty of omega-3s and vitamin D in your diet. And the combination of these two nutrients can further promote sleep by increasing serotonin production (35).

In one study, the high vitamin D content in salmon improved sleep quality

ooner compared to other dietary proteins (36).

Salmon is also a source of vitamin B12, which is thought to help regulate circadian rhythms (32).

  1. Oatmeal
    Oats and most whole grains are a great source of natural melatonin (33). Whole grains are also a source of key supportive nutrients, like magnesium, that may help promote better sleep (37).

Eating more carbs before bed may also help increase feelings of sleepiness by creating a small rise in blood sugar, followed by insulin and sleep-producing hormones (38).

Not into oats before bed? Many types of grain rice and other whole grains offer similar benefits.

  1. Kiwis
    Kiwis are thought to help increase serotonin production and have been linked to improved sleep quality and duration (34,39).

In one study, adults with self-reported sleep disorders who ate 2 kiwis an hour before bedtime seemed to sleep longer and better (39). Participants also reported that they fell asleep more quickly.

  1. Chamomile Tea
    Chamomile has long been used as a “calming tea” and has been praised for a variety of health benefits including stress reduction and improved sleep. But the research isn’t 100% clear cut on the benefits of chamomile for rest (40).

Chamomile contains the antioxidant apigenin that is thought to produce calming and sleep-inducing effects (41).

Another possible reason why many feel sleepy after drinking certain teas or a warm glass of milk is the psychological effects of drinking a warm liquid before bed. Drinking something warm can increase body temperature which supports a restful state (42).

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