We know that what you do in your waking hours impacts the rest you get at night. For example, having good sleep hygiene and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol too late in the day. Similarly, eating too close to bedtime, not managing your portions or, alternately, going to bed with a totally empty stomach can similarly cause sleep disturbances.
But did you know that some foods can have properties that either help or hinder your sleep? Here are the foods you should include in your diet to help you fall asleep faster, and ones you should avoid.
Eat: Cherries and other melatonin-promoting foods
Cherries are a sleep-lover’s dream because they naturally contain melatonin — a hormone that helps promote deep sleep. While melatonin can be taken orally as a supplement to help resolve jet lag, you can also find it in tart almonds, goji berries, fish and even eggs.
See also: Why you get nightmares and how to stop them.
Eat: Bananas and other magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium is great for many reasons when you’re looking to improve your sleep. It helps your muscles and body relax, and for this reason magnesium-rich foods such as bananas are a good option ahead of bedtime (and as another pro-tip, if you have a big presentation, or some other high-stress performance task, eating a banana may help level that anxiety). You can also find magnesium in almonds, helping your body regulate your blood sugar levels as you sleep, helping keep adrenaline at bay.
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Eat: Honey and other calming foods
While raw honey doesn’t pack melatonin in and of itself, it helps to stimulate your body’s natural production of the sleep-promoting hormone. Additionally, it helps your body cap off orexin — the neuropeptide responsible for keeping you focused and alert during the day.
Related: This is how I fought insomnia and won.
Eat: Turkey and other tryptophan-rich foods
There is some truth to the idea that turkey makes you sleepy, and that truth resides in an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan not only regulates your mood, but also helps keep anxiety at bay, overall keeping your hormones in check. You can also find the amino acid in yoghurt, fish and brown rice.
Drink: Calming teas
There are a number of herbs that are great at calming the body, and helping promote deeper, longer sleep. These include chamomile, ginger, passionflower, lemon balm, valerian or hop and you can find them in tea form on your grocery store shelves.
Related: 20 best teas to steep for your health.
Avoid: Chocolate and other caffeine-laden foods
We know caffeine is great for many reasons, and that as a stimulant, it can help wake us up and keep us sharp in the mornings especially. But as the day goes on, it’s best to limit foods that contain caffeine beginning six hours ahead of your bedtime, and (sadly) this includes chocolate, otherwise you’re risking your REM sleep.
See also: How to use lucid dreaming to heal.
Avoid: Hot sauces and other spicy foods
Spicy food can pack a tonne of flavour but it can also bring a one-two punch when it comes to your deep sleep. Hot sauces, and even mustard and curries contain a lot of capsaicin — the active component that gives chilies their trademark bite. While some love this good burn, eating capsaicin-rich foods ahead of bedtime can not only interfere with your body’s thermoregulation process, raising your core body temperature and suppressing sound sleep. Add to that the fact that the digestion of spice is also an energy-intensive process, and spice makes it difficult on your body to go into deep sleep.
Avoid: Candy and other sugary foods
You’re best to avoid sugary foods at any time, but eating candy, ice cream and other sweets too close to the time you start to shut down causes your insulin levels to spike and ultimately crash. This sugar crash alerts your body to jump into crisis mode, raising your cortisol (the stress hormone), and ultimately waking you from that deep sleep.
Avoid: Chips and other salty snacks
Salty foods aren’t great for you (or your skin), period. But eating such snacks less than three hours before sleep dehydrates your body and causes water retention, overall impacting your sleep quality.
Avoid: Red wine, other alcohol and fluids
Drinking too much of anything before you lay down for the night will not only cause you to have to get up and pee throughout the night, fluids with alcohol can disturb deep sleep because of their sugar content and the energy required to process it. Red wine may initially make you drowsy (it’s a depressant), which may cause you to feel sleepy, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wide awake and restless in the middle of the night as your body works through the liquid.