Foods that help you sleep better


Jan 12, 2016 by Aman

Most people struggle with sleeping at some point in their lives, whether it's due to stress, excitement, or illness. In fact, almost half of all Americans (there's not as much data for Brits) have regular problems sleeping, and many people use sleep aids such as over-the-counter drugs to help them get off to sleep and to stay asleep.

If you're suffering from insomnia, there's no need to go out and buy something expensive that may not even work on you. Using food in a clever way can make your sleep time easier and a lot more refreshing instead.

There's a lot of information out there about how eating foods that have a high glycaemic index (GI) before bedtime can help you sleep, and there is evidence to show that they do work in getting you off to sleep; however, these foods are mainly refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, white bread, and white rice. Because of this, they tend to produce a spike of sugar and insulin levels in the body, and this quickly turns into a sugar crash, which is likely to wake you up in the middle of the night.

However, there are foods that do help with sleep without crashing you out, and these have some seriously good science around them.

Sour cherries are good for sleep

Tart cherry juice, available from wholefood shops, is a great source of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin, the feel-good hormone. The body then converts the serotonin into melatonin, which is the sleep hormone we need in order to go to sleep. That's the science. In practice, drinking about 200ml of tart cherry juice twice a day may increase the length of time you are asleep each night by as much as 90 minutes.

You can also access the same amino-hormone action by eating a handful of cherries at either end of the day. Just one thing to remember: cherries are a diuretic, so if you don't want to wake in the night for a visit to the toilet, you may want to eat them about one hour before bedtime.

Dairy makes it easier to relax

Calcium is used by the brain to convert tryptophan into melatonin – just like the process described above. If you have a nice cup of warm milk, perhaps with some cinnamon added to taste, about 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime, your brain will produce the sleep hormone at just the right levels to help you get off to sleep. Dairy foods also contain tryptophan itself, so milk, cheese, and other dairy products will certainly give you a better-than-average chance of improving your sleep.

One thing worth noting: you shouldn't have hot chocolate before bed because chocolate contains a small measure of caffeine, the enemy of sleep!

It helps if you're nuts

Almonds and walnuts are great sources of chemicals that are helpful for better sleep. Almonds contain magnesium, and if you suffer from a lack of this mineral, you may find that you wake in the middle of the night. Walnuts contain both tryptophan and melatonin, so with this double blast of the good stuff, your sleepless nights will surely be at an end.