To start things off, we're going to introduce the two main players when it comes to good, uninterrupted sleep – tryptophan and magnesium. We won't bore you with the details, but here's what you need to know.
Tryptophan is an amino acid – one of the nine essential amino acids. It includes isoleucine, leucine and lysine, among others. Essential amino acids are those amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. You have to get them from your diet.
In other words, it's literally essential that you eat the right kinds of foods in order to provide your body with what it needs. Amino acids affect hundreds of processes in our body, and tryptophan has the greatest impact on good sleep in particular. Of the foods we often consume, tryptophan is found in milk, cheese, oats, nuts and meat. We'll talk about these in more detail later on.
Similarly, magnesium is one of the few minerals our body cannot function without. Magnesium plays an important role in 300 processes in the body, such as energy production and glycolysis. And magnesium deficiency can lead to many serious diseases, including insomnia (which should showcase how important it is for sleep).
You can take magnesium supplements and also consume foods rich in magnesium such as seeds, spinach and nuts. And the most important fact about both magnesium and tryptophan is that they affect melatonin production. Melatonin is the “sleep hormone”, as well as serotonin, which dictates our mood and sleep cycles.
So, you can see why both tryptophan-rich foods and proper magnesium intake are not only necessary for quality sleep but your health in general. Therefore, let's talk about the best and worst foods to have for dinner or as a bedtime snack.
Ideally, you should eat healthy food throughout the entire day, every day. This will keep your body in good shape and allow you to get optimal sleep on most nights.
To be healthy and sleep well, you need to eat a variety of nutritious foods divided into 3 to 5 meals. It should never feel like you're stuffing your face but rather just quenching your hunger. And you should get a healthy mix of all three micronutrients, as well as plenty of fibres and vitamins.
However, since dinner is so close to bedtime, it has a larger impact on your sleep quality than breakfast or lunch. The same goes for any nighttime eating and snacking. So, let's break down some of the best food groups you should incorporate. Then we'll move on to some recipes so that you know what a healthy snack should look like.
In general, you should include all types of nuts in your diet as they make for excellent healthy snacks. Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios and almonds are just some of the types of nuts you need to eat daily. From it, you'll get the required amount of healthy fats, selenium, magnesium and zinc. Also, you'll get many other minerals that can help your body stay in tip-top shape.
Almonds and walnuts are especially good to have before bedtime or as healthy late-night snacks. This is because almonds contain both magnesium and melatonin, so they can definitely make you sleep better.
And walnuts contain magnesium, but also phosphorus and copper, among other minerals.
This is why doctors generally suggest eating between 30 and 40 grams of nuts a day in order to properly fuel your body. However, nuts aren't the sole key to a healthy life. In fact, too many nuts can cause mild side effects. And if you have a nut allergy, there are other ways to get these important vitamins and minerals. So, like with everything, moderation is key.
Bananas are full of carbohydrates. This makes them an excellent energy boost or even meal replacement when in a pinch. You must have noticed how athletes, especially tennis players, eat a banana during a match in order to regain some energy.
And while being full of energy isn't something you'd usually want (and we generally suggest avoiding carbohydrate-rich foods at night) bananas are the exception. This is because they contain the amino acid tryptophan, and magnesium, which we've already mentioned as essential for restful sleep.
Just be careful not to eat too much and spike your blood sugar.
So, if you ever wondered “Do bananas help you sleep at night?”, now you know. Who knew that food can take part in both the “things to help you sleep” and “is contained in a Sundae” categories?
Regular consumption of kiwis can help out your immune system. That's because it contains plenty of vitamin C (almost the entire daily value), vitamin K and vitamin E. It also has few calories and a lot of fibre. This makes it one of the best foods when you want to lose weight.
Kiwis act as an antioxidant too. Several studies have been conducted on the association between kiwis, which are full of serotonin, and sleep. And the results showed that kiwis can cause you to fall asleep faster and achieve rapid eye movement (or REM). So, be sure to include kiwis into your daily routine if you can.
What makes rice a good dinner food is that it has a high glycemic index. That means that it makes you feel full and sleepy after eating a rice-rich meal. And if you're an enjoyer of Asian cuisine, we're sure you've experienced this phenomenon yourself!
Although brown rice has more fibre and nutrients, white rice should also be consumed regularly, rather than bread and pasta. However, it's also important to note that because white rice has a high glycemic index, diabetics should be careful about their blood sugar.
They need to switch to brown rice if necessary as it has a significantly lower glycemic index. That being said, the GI of brown rice isn't low compared to some other food, just lower than white rice (72 to 50).
But those who do not have a problem with insulin secretion don't have to worry as much. They will benefit if they eat white rice a few hours before bedtime. White rice also contains thiamine, folic acid and magnesium – which only further aids in making you fall asleep faster.
Did you know that turkey breast is the most protein-rich meat, even more so than beef steak? Proteins are extremely important for the proper functioning of the human body, especially animal proteins. That's because they have a full chain of amino acids, unlike plant proteins. Turkey also contains very little fat, so it is a lean protein that's ideal for dinner.
Be it through a sandwich, a salad, or any other meal, adding turkey to your diet is bound to show results. What is also important to know about turkey is the high level of selenium and tryptophan it contains.
When you look at the overall nutritional value of turkey, you can conclude that it's one of the best things you can eat in the evening.
And if you've ever participated in or seen a depiction of Thanksgiving, this also explains why everyone falls into a food coma shortly after lunch.
We've all seen it on cartoons and shows alike, where the character gets up in the middle of the night, drinks a glass of warm milk, and immediately falls back asleep. But does milk help you sleep in the real world and can it enhance sleep quality?
The short answer is – yes. That's because warm milk will relax you physically, by speeding up circulation, and mentally because it can encourage sleep routine. Both of which are very important.
Milk and other dairy products also have a lot of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin D and tryptophan.
So, if you don't like milk, you can also try out yoghurt or cheese. And those who are lactose intolerant should choose lactose-free milk or try non-dairy milk – with the caveat that plant milk might not be as beneficial.
Now that we covered all the foods that help you sleep, we want to throw out a few recipes as well. After all, there's no point in knowing the foods that make you sleepy if you don't know some dishes that utilise them as well. So, here are some of our favourites!
When it comes to what not to eat before bed, some tips are obvious while others are less so. For example, we all know that drinking coffee before bed is bound to be in line with certain sleep disorders in terms of how much sleep you're likely to get.
However, it's still important to know everything that could potentially trip you up, as well as why it happens in the first place. This way you can align both your sleep habits and your diet in order to get a good night's sleep.
So, here are some general guidelines on which foods to avoid and the reason why they can be detrimental to your sleep quality. And, of course, if you have any type of food intolerance that we haven't mentioned, stay clear of them.
If you like spicy foods, then you might find it very difficult to eat food without spices. That's because it comes off as tasteless and bland in comparison (especially if spices are a key pillar of your heritage or culture). And while spicy foods are generally not unhealthy, they can still be detrimental if consumed for dinner (or even lunch if the dish is extremely spicy).
Those who have sensitive stomachs are especially prone to problems after eating spicy food. It may cause heartburn and bloating. And these aren't sensations you want when you're trying to get better sleep.
Also, hot dishes will raise your core body temperature, which in turn will keep you awake for longer. Plus, you will probably wake up multiple times throughout the night to drink water. That's because spicy foods can make you quite thirsty.
So, regardless of how tasty they might be, we recommend going easy on the spices if you want to get good sleep consistently.
Chocolate might seem like an obvious candidate because of the high amount of sugar. After all, we've all experienced a sugar rush at some point in our lives. However, what makes chocolate a bad bedtime snack is actually the presence of caffeine.
And this, unfortunately, goes for all caffeinated foods and beverages. So, anything that contains caffeine should be avoided after 3 PM or 5 PM (depending on when you go to bed). That includes coffee, energy drinks, chocolate and some types of tea.
But don't worry too much, as there are usually caffeine-free alternatives for many of your favourite snacks and beverages. For example, milk chocolate contains less caffeine than dark chocolate. And drinking chamomile tea is a lot better than drinking black tea or coffee.
Yes, sometimes when you drink a glass of wine or some other alcoholic drink you become sleepy and doze off easily. However, it's a double-edged sword. This is because people can get too used to falling asleep in this way and become dependent on alcohol to fall asleep.
Although you will fall asleep quickly, alcohol will negatively affect your sleep cycle and your deep sleep in the long run. It is possible that you will wake up often, and it will take you a long time to get to the REM phase.
And that's not all. Symptoms will worsen for all those who snore or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. You may also have a problem with acid reflux. Not to mention that if you overdo it, the room might start spinning and you might have to run to the toilet repeatedly.
Citruses include oranges, lemons, grapefruits, tangerines and many other fruits that we often consume. Citrus fruits are very healthy because of the number of vitamins they contain, along with being pretty tasty. But we do not recommend consuming them before going to bed.
Citrus fruits are highly acidic, which can be a trigger for acid reflux. You definitely want to avoid that. And although not a citrus fruit, you should avoid tomatoes for this same reason. Citrus fruits are also a natural diuretic. This means you will have to get up several times during the night to go to the toilet.
So, while eating a banana or drinking cherry juice might improve your sleep, oranges and grapefruits might just ruin it – so, pick your fruits carefully.
We know it's great to end the day with a very tasty, fried meal. But try to do so as rarely as possible, otherwise, your night's sleep will suffer. In fact, any heavy, fatty foods should be avoided late at night, as they can cause problems with digestion.
Burgers, fries and fried cheese might be tasty, but they're also detrimental to our digestive tract. Stake or mac and cheese may seem like a better choice, but such meals are also a burden for your stomach. The same goes for food with too much salt.
You can treat yourself once in a couple of weeks, after a night out or a game, but not more often than that. So, if you really need to fill up, stick to whole-grain toast, peanut butter and a glass of milk.
This is a question to which there are many answers. Many think that dinner should be skipped, but that's not an end-all solution. If you skip dinner because of intermittent fasting, that is fine, since you consumed enough nutrients for the day.
And if you don't have any healthy food at your disposal, and you often have heartburn problems, then you may sleep better if you don’t eat anything before bed.
In other cases, you shouldn't go to bed hungry, as you need dinner to get proteins, carbs and healthy fats. Also, as we mentioned in this article, many foods contain substances that will make you sleep better.
Speaking of portion sizes, different amounts of food are needed by different people. If your workout is scheduled for 6 PM, then after the workout you should eat a larger amount of food, similar to lunch, to feed your muscles. On the other hand, if you have a sedentary job and then when you come home you watch a movie or play video games, dinner should be a significantly smaller meal than lunch.
The recommended portion size is also affected by your age and metabolism. So, younger people can generally get away with more calories than their parents. And bodybuilders need to eat more just to maintain their current physique.
But at the end of the day, just listen to your body because it knows what you should do. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should eat potato chips and cake just because you have a food craving. But you also shouldn't starve yourself.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what to eat before bed (or not). So you will be a step closer to improving your sleep quality.
And that's all we have to say about what to eat before bed! Did you know all of these tips or did your favourite snack turn out to be a sleep-killer? Feel free to tell us all about it in the comment section.