From Dr. Holly Phillips, M.D.
What you eat can affect the quality of your sleep on any given night—for better or worse. While certain foods and beverages are sleep-promoters, others are sleep-inhibitors when they’re consumed shortly before bedtime. To set yourself up for a good night’s slumber, be sure to stick with the sleep-enhancers in the evening and steer clear of the sleep-saboteurs. Since it’s not always obvious which foods have which properties, here is a cheat-sheet to help you make the optimal choices for an evening meal or bedtime snack:
Foods That Can Promote Good Zzzz’s
Cherries: They contain melatonin, a hormone that helps control your body’s internal clock and put you in the mood to snooze. That’s why having a small bowl of cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice in the evening may promote a good night’s sleep.
Milk: The creamy white beverage contains the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to the calming brain chemical serotonin, which can make you sleepy. Warm or cold, a mug of milk can help you nod off.
Bananas: Rich in the minerals magnesium and potassium, bananas have a relaxing effect on the body and mind that’s conducive to sleep.
Whole-grain cereal: With or without milk, the complex carbs in whole-grain cereal (think: a cup of oat squares or shredded wheat) can put you in the mood to snooze.
Sweet potato: Besides being an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes contain calming potassium and they help stimulate serotonin production.
Walnuts: A great source of tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, a small handful walnuts are a dream bedtime snack.
Cheese and whole-grain crackers: The combo can boost serotonin and melatonin levels, setting the stage for a good night’s sleep.
Chamomile tea: An herb that’s been used to treat insomnia for thousands of years, chamomile tea acts as a mild sedative, calming your body and mind.
Honey: A good source of sleep-inducing tryptophan, having a tablespoon of honey in the evening can promote relaxation and help you sleep better.
Oatmeal: Rich in complex carbohydrates, oatmeal is a great source of calming minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, as well as stress-reducing vitamin B-6 and the natural sleep aid melatonin. Think of it as a healthy sedative in a bowl.
Foods That Can Sabotage Sleep
Coffee: Blame the caffeine, pure and simple. It can rev up your body and mind and keep you up when you should be dreaming.
Steak: Having a hunk of red meat (whether it’s a steak or another cut) too close to bedtime forces your body to work overtime to digest all that protein and fat. It’s enough to leave you counting sheep.
Chocolate: The dark stuff, in particular, contains enough caffeine to trigger a night of tossing and turning for people who are sensitive to it.
French fries: Eating fried foods or other high-fat fare in the evening can tax your gastrointestinal system, leaving you with a whopping case of heartburn that can interfere with your slumber.
Soda: Even if it doesn’t contain caffeine, the carbonation in soda can lead to heartburn that can keep you up at night.
Alcohol: A nightcap is supposed to help you unwind but while it can make you sleepy initially, alcohol can interfere with the normal stages of sleep, leaving you tired or less-than-refreshed in the morning.
Sriracha sauce: Getting horizontal after eating any spicy foods can result in heartburn and a restless night’s sleep.
Tomatoes: They contain the amino acid tyramine, which causes the brain to release norepinephrine, a stress hormone that can rev up your body and mind. Not what you want before bed!
Broccoli: Loaded with health-promoting nutrients and fiber, broccoli takes a while to digest, which is fine during the day. At night, however, it can set you up for a restless night’s sleep if you have it too close to bedtime.
Peppermint: Whether it’s in the form of gum or candy, peppermint can stimulate the brain, making you feel more alert and awake—the opposite of what you want before bed!