From the parenting trick of lulling kids to sleep with a pre-bedtime glass of milk to avoiding caffeine after hours so you aren’t up all night counting sheep, there’s no denying that there’s a connection between food and sleep. Sometimes this is a gift, and sometimes it’s a curse. (Ever feel like you’re falling asleep at your desk around 2 p.m.? Something you ate for lunch could be the reason why.) So how do you hack your diet to work to your advantage? There’s definitely some helpful tips to keep in mind.
Here, registered dietitian and Verywell Health general manager Rachel Berman, RD, gives the low-down on common foods that make people feel sleepy during the day, ones that could work to your advantage at night, and common culprits that could be keeping you up and interfering with your sleep. You’ll leave knowing what to eat, when, literally eating your way to a better night’s sleep. A pretty delicious remedy, right?
Foods that make you sleepy during the day
Not being able to keep your eyes open when you’re at work is the worst. Getting everything done on your to-do list can be challenging even when energy is on your side, but when it’s working against you? Woof. If you had a sugary granola bar or bagel for breakfast, you could find yourself wanting to take a nap a few hours later. Eating lots of foods high in simple carbs (like white bread and pasta) can make you sleepy too because they can cause a spike in blood sugar, and what comes up must come down, typically in a dreaded crash.
Instead, go for food sources with protein and healthy fats, which will keep blood sugar levels steady during the day. Salmon, turkey, eggs, nuts, and non-starchy veggies are all ideas of what to eat during the day that won’t cause your eyelids to get droopy later.
Common foods disrupting sleep at night
Have trouble sleeping on a regular basis? Berman says the first factor to consider is your caffeine intake. “This may be very obvious, but it has to be said!” she says. “If you’re drinking coffee, matcha, or other caffeinated teas, sodas, or energy drinks in the afternoon or early evening, it could be disrupting your sleep at night.” Her advice is to stick with decaffeinated drinks after noon.
Berman also says your dessert choice could be keeping you up. “Chocolate has small amounts of caffeine, which could disrupt sleep if eaten right before bed,” she says. Berman also says to keep an eye out for hidden sources of caffeine in your day-to-day, such as migraine medications or cold medicines.
Aside from foods and drinks with caffeine, Berman says alcohol can also lead to interrupted sleep. “Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster but it can also disrupt REM sleep, which is the most restorative,” Berman says. “Therefore, if you drink too much, you’ll have a poor quality of sleep and likely wake up in the middle of the night.” Her advice is to stick with one standard drink (12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, 1.5 oz spirits), which shouldn’t disrupt your sleep cycle. (Sleep expert Shelby Harris, PsyD, previously shared with Well+Good that she stops drinking within three hours of her desired bedtime.)
Foods that can help you sleep
Okay, so you know what can keep you up, but what can help you drift off to Dreamland? According to Berman, foods and drinks with tryptophan could do the trick. “Tryptophan is an amino acid which is known to boost feel good and sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin,” she says. Though she notes that the jury is still out on the exact amount of tryptophan it takes to affect sleep, a connection has been well established.
Turkey, salmon, eggs, tofu, lentils, and spinach all are sources of tryptophan, so incorporating these foods into your dinner could lead to a better night’s sleep. “A warm glass of milk can be soothing and help you get into the mood for sleep,” Berman adds; it’s another source of the amino acid.
As for dessert, yogurt (another source of tryptophan) with almonds and banana or cherries is a good way to go. Almonds and bananas are both good sources of potassium and B vitamins, which help the nervous system relax. And cherries help the body release melatonin, aka the sleep hormone.
Eating foods rich in vitamin D, like mushrooms and eggs, can also set the groundwork for better slumber, since a vitamin D deficiency is linked to poor sleep. “Eating healthy, vitamin D-rich foods may help you to lower your risk of vitamin D inadequacy or deficiency, and lower your risk of poor sleep and risk for other diseases,” Courtney Bancroft, PsyD, previously told Well+Good. And foods rich in magnesium, like almonds, bananas, and peanut butter, can support your body’s natural melatonin production
Of course there’s more than food at play that factor into how well you sleep. Stress, electronic use, and having an untraditional work schedule can all play a role into disrupting sleep. But taking control of your diet is one major step forward you can take. Now if only you could get your partner to stop snoring…