How many mornings in the last week have you hit the snooze alarm? How often have you woken up tired after spending half the night tossing and turning?
Sleep is essentially medicine for the body, giving your brain a chance to recover from the day and gearing you up for the morning. There can be a lot of reasons you’re not getting the sleep you need. Stress, anxiety, and certain medical conditions can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Your diet may also be holding you back. The right food choices can have you sleeping like a baby while the wrong ones may ruin your whole night.
Don’t think that it’s only your midnight snacks that are affecting your sleep quality, either. We all know that substances like nicotine and caffeine can hinder sleep when you take them before bed. Still, experts say that every meal of the day affects your quality of sleep¹.
For years, scientists have noted a link between a lack of quality sleep and poor dietary habits, but it had been unclear which caused the other.
More recent studies have found that the link likely goes both ways: what you eat affects your sleep, and poor sleep affects what you choose to eat².
You want to focus on easily digestible foods so that your body’s natural digestion process doesn’t disturb your rest. If your body has to work hard to process the foods you’ve eaten, it can be uncomfortable and expend more energy than your brain wants to deal with while sleeping.
In general, you’re also on the lookout for foods that encourage your body to slow down. You should eat foods that are likely to lower your body temperature or help you maintain lower blood pressure and glucose metabolism.
So what makes a food sleep-friendly? You’ve probably read that binging on turkey makes you tired because of tryptophan, but many other nutrients can be your friend.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, yet most of your body’s serotonin supply is found in the gut. Serotonin is a significant player in making sure digestion happens efficiently³. Serotonin levels dictate how quickly food moves through your system. Low serotonin levels will leave you feeling backed up, bloated and uncomfortable, which doesn’t bode well for getting high-quality shut-eye.
Serotonin cannot be found directly in food. You need to eat foods high in tryptophan instead, which is converted into serotonin in your body. Combining tryptophan-rich foods like poultry and dairy with carbohydrates is an excellent way to pump up your body’s natural serotonin production.
Where to find foods with high tryptophan:
Melatonin is a hormone that helps manage and regulate your sleep cycles. Melatonin tells your brain to go to bed, and melatonin supplements are a popular method of combating sleep problems. Your body can naturally make melatonin.
Your body can convert serotonin to melatonin with the aid of specific vitamins, but unlike serotonin, there are a few foods that come with melatonin pre-made.
Where to find a good dose of melatonin:
Nuts and seeds
Darky leafy greens
Magnesium is a mineral that naturally helps your body relax, and it pairs well with zinc. You’ll find that many nutrients have “buddies” or other nutrients that help your body absorb and utilize more of its benefits.
Magnesium is a good counter against adrenaline. So magnesium-rich foods can be especially helpful during stressful or eventful days.
Where to find a good dose of magnesium:
Where to get magnesium and zinc at the same time:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients, which means your body cannot produce them. Your omega-3 intake must come directly from food or supplements. Omega-3 has been shown in studies to correlate with improved sleep quality and may help you fall asleep faster⁴. It also interacts positively with other nutrients like Vitamin D, ensuring your body makes the most out of all the nutrients you eat.
Where to find a good dose of omega-3:
Salmon and other fish (especially wild-caught)
If many foods on this list look familiar, you’ve probably been reading up on what makes a balanced, healthy diet. You’ll notice an absence of unhealthy fats, sugars, and processed foods in this article. That’s because when you eat well and support your body’s overall health, quality sleep comes more naturally.
(1) Berkley, C (November 2004) What You Eat Can Sabotage Your Sleep
(2) St-Onge, MP; Mikic, A; Pietrolungo, CE (September 2016) Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality
(3) Squires, K (March 2020) How to Eat if You Want Better Sleep
(4) Hansen, AL; Dahl, L; Olson, G; Thornton, D; Graff, IE; Frøyland, L; Thayer, JF; Pallesen, S (May 2014). Fish consumption, sleep, daily functioning, and heart rate variability