Foods That Help You Sleep Better

You might remember your mom giving you a glass of warm milk before bedtime to help you sleep. It's not another old wives' tale – studies have shown that a little milk can help you sleep better. And it's not just milk either. There are a host of common foods that can help you get to sleep – and stay asleep – easier. Here are a few:

Tryptophan-rich foods

Tryptophan is a substance in certain foods that the body converts to an amino acid called L-tryptophan. This amino acid in turn helps the body produce the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin induces deeper and more restful sleep. (Strictly speaking, serotonin is not a hormone; it is a neurotransmitter.) Trytophan may also be a precursor to melatonin.

Foods rich in tryptophan include milk (hence the popular bedtime habit), cheese, eggs, nuts, fish, and beans. These are protein-rich foods, so they should be easy to remember when you're deciding what to have for a bedtime snack.

Tryptophan is often pointed to as the culprit for post-Thanksgiving Dinner sleepiness, but many people have debunked this explanation as overly simplistic. While it is true turkey is rich in tryptophan, the large size of the dinner and the plethora of starches in the typical dinner are more likely to cause drowsiness.

Foods rich in carbohydrates

Carbohydrate-rich food for dinner helps a lot of people sleep. These include rice, breads, pasta, milk products, and potatoes.

But it's important to not go to bed on a full stomach. When your digestive system is in full swing, it's difficult for the rest of your body to settle down. To sleep better at night, have dinner two to four hours before bedtime.  A recent study found eating at night negatively affects sleep quality in general, although different people react differently.

Do certain food promote nightmares?: No.

Here's a few more tips to help you get all the sleep you need:

  • Avoid caffeine. This one's a no-brainer, but not drinking caffeinated beverages several hours before bedtime makes it easier to fall asleep. If you're sensitive to caffeine (or if coffee makes you feel jittery and on edge), you might want to swear off all coffee, or at least eight hours before going to bed. (Paradoxically, some people seem to sleep better after consuming caffeine.)
  • Don't drink fluids before going to bed. This might go against the habit of having a glass of milk before bedtime, but if you find yourself getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, it might be a good idea.
  • Avoid alcohol. Some people drink alcohol to get drowsy, but alcohol tends to cause restless sleep. The calming effect of alcohol also wears off after only a few hours, so you're likely to wake up in the middle of the night (sleep maintenance insomnia).

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Sleep

People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) usually find their symptoms get worse at night.  There are ways to manage this, including by adjusting the position of the body in bed for sleeping and eating the largest meal of the day at lunchtime and not eating several hours before bedtime.  Heartburn or acid reflux medication and avoiding foods known to cause problems help.  Some people have GERD without heartburn and suffer sleep problems.

Sleep deprivation makes one hungry and also reduces willpower.  It has been shown that sleepiness impairs self-control for rich foods.


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