Foods for Sleep: Best & Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed

Last Updated:December 15, 2020

By now, you’ve probably heard of keto diets and intermittent fasting, methods that help people shed off pounds, but did you know there are also foods for sleep?

I used to think the more I stuffed myself with calorie-dense food before bedtime, the sleepier I’ll get. However, I just felt more lethargic and my shuteye was even disrupted. This led me to experiment with different fruits, grains and veg to find out which foods help you sleep.

Sleep and Nutrition

What You Eat

Diet and sleep are interconnected. Sleep affects appetite, which is why you tend to feel more hungry when you lack Zzz’s. The inverse is also true. Food can affect sleep. What you eat is important for overall wellbeing. Your alertness during the day is affected by the nutrients you take in through food and as night settles in, your drowsiness is affected.

Now that scientists and sleep experts, such as those from the National Sleep Foundation, are digging deeper into the links between food and sleep, it’s important that we optimize medical advice to improve our sleep quality. Eating specific foods can help relax your mind and aid the release of hormones that induce sleep.

We can’t deny that better eating leads to better sleep. Whether you’re a professional or an athlete, you need to get at least eight hours in to rejuvenate and repair the body and mind so you’re ready to take on the next day.

When You Eat It

Should you eat right before bed?

Timing is everything when it comes to eating the right foods before bed. You don’t just need high quality, nutritious fare, you also need to eat at the right time. And that time is not before you wind down at night.

Eating a heavy meal close to bedtime is a major don’t. Sleep, as well as a host of other bodily functions, follows the body’s circadian rhythms. Eating right before you sleep means your digestive system is working past its normal hours and that can actually make you more awake. This can also trigger acid reflux or heartburn which isn’t a relaxing experience.

To prevent this, scheduling your dinner a few hours before you sleep may help. Make sure it’s not a heavy meal. If you’re a coffee fiend, sip your last cup at least 8 hours before bedtime. According to the National Sleep Foundation, caffeine too close to sleep will overstimulate you.

People who practice intermittent fasting have an advantage because long windows of non-eating allows the body to repair itself and the digestive system to relax. Restricting eating periods can also strengthen our body clock which leads to less time falling asleep and feeling more refreshed when you wake up.

However, for some people, fasting leads to more cravings, especially at night. To take the edge off, a late snack is may help. Trying to sleep with a rumbling stomach is difficult.

The Best Foods to Eat Before Bed

These are some of the foods that help you sleep deeper.

  1. Turkey
    The Thanksgiving staple is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin and melatonin in the body, two sleep-inducing chemicals.
  2. Fatty fish
    Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and anchovies, is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D which regulate sleep.
  3. White Rice
    Studies show that eating a high glycemic, carb-based food such as rice can induce sleep when taken at least four hours before bedtime.
  4. Chicken Noodle Soup
    Chicken, like turkey, is a way to take in sleep-promoting amino acid, tryptophan. The comforting effects of soup plus a carb source in the form of noodles may help you fall asleep.
  5. Tarragon
    Tarragon is an herb that also comes in tea form. It can be used as a gentle sedative if you have insomnia.
  6. Kale
    This popular leafy green contains calcium which relaxes the nervous system, aiding sleep.
  7. Sweet Potato
    Sweet potatoes are good sources of complex carbohydrates that help you sleep and potassium which relaxes the body.
  8. Kiwi
    This contains serotonin and folate which promote sleep and helps you nod off faster.
  9. Bananas
    Bananas are packed with potassium and magnesium which calms down the nerves and muscles.
  10. Cherries
    Cherries, specifically tart cherries, is a melatonin-rich fruit which can be consumed in juice form and is a popular way to fall asleep faster.
  11. Cereal with skim milk
    Whole grain cereal is a low calorie meal that’s easy to digest and adding skim milk enriches it with sleep-inducing tryptophan.
  12. Almonds, Pistachios, Walnuts
    Give your body a boost of serotonin with these nuts, which contain copper, a natural serotonin regulator.
  13. Goji berries
    Goji berries help to promote restful sleep and alleviate anxiety because they are rich in magnesium and thiamine.
  14. Spinach
    This Popeye favorite is rich in magnesium which sends signals to the brain that helps you wind down for a good night’s sleep.
  15. Chickpeas
    Chickpeas, whether whole or mashed into tasty hummus, may help you get better sleep by supplying you with tryptophan.

The Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed

Here are the foods to avoid if you want a blissful slumber. These are the opposite of sleep-promoting foods.

  1. Red meat
    Red meat such as steak and pork is high in fat and protein which may disturb sleep. It’s also not a good source of tryptophan and can trigger the dreaded acid reflux.
  2. Ice cream
    Dessert is a hard habit to quit especially when it’s ice cream but if you want to doze off faster, avoid it. Ice cream can spike blood sugar levels, triggering the rise of insulin and cortisol.
  3. Grapefruit
    Grapefruit and citrus goes hand in hand with heartburn because they are highly acidic fruits. They may cause the lower esophagus to open which allows acid to escape.
  4. Tomatoes and tomato sauce
    Tomatoes are good for thickening pasta sauces but they aren’t ideal for sleep. The culprit is once again its acidity which sends you to heartburn-land fast.
  5. Cheese
    Lactose intolerants and dairy lovers alike need to back off from the cheese plate before bed. It triggers a stress response in the body which keeps you up.
  6. Chocolate
    I hate to break it to you but chowing down on a chocolate bar is wreaking havoc on your sleep. Dark chocolate is a sneaky source of caffeine which makes you more alert and prevents you from sinking into a deep slumber.
  7. Fatty foods
    Greasy foods aren’t doing you any favors, sleep-wise. Ditch the burgers and burritos at night because they make your stomach work overtime to digest.
  8. High sugar cereals
    Unlike whole grain cereal, one of the sleep foods that help you wind down, sugary cereals like corn flakes and Froot Loops, make your blood sugar levels shoot up. The ensuing crash can affect your sleep for the worse. Save it for breakfast, not for a late snack.
  9. Hot peppers and spicy food
    If you’re fond of Indian or Thai takeaway for dinner, beware because these spicy cuisines rev up your metabolism, which is not ideal when you want to sleep. Dousing your food in hot sauce can lead to a spike in body temperature which may make it harder to nod off.
  10. Dried fruit
    Dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries are too much fiber, too close to bedtime. Combined with their low water content, these may leave you prone to gas and stomach rumbling.
  11. Pizza
    Pizza is a high carb combination of two foods mentioned above: tomato sauce and cheese. They are sinfully delicious but they shoot down your sleep quality faster than you can say “Just one more slice.
  12. Raw onions
    People who regularly eat raw onions may be few and far in between but if you regularly chomp down on these at night, nix the onion from your salad because it triggers heartburn which can last for hours.
  13. Cruciferous vegetables
    Broccoli and cauliflower are nutrient dense and healthy veggies but taken too close to your sleeping hours, they may upset your digestive system. They high in fiber which can rob you of the rejuvenating sleep you deserve.

Summary

When it comes to nutrition and wellbeing, it’s helpful to heed medical advice and avoid habits and food that disturb your sleep. This is by no means a complete and exhaustive list but if you want to catch more Zzz’s, eating more of these foods that help you sleep can make a world of difference.