What Should I Eat to Help Me Sleep?

Greeves & Roethler, PLC

Nutritionists share which bedtime snacks can help you catch the most winks.

Did you know that what you eat ­— and when you eat it ­­— can play a part in how well you sleep?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Superfoods to Help You Sleep” explains that, while your sleep-wake cycle is controlled by your body’s master clock (in the hypothalamus of the brain), you also have peripheral clocks in organs like the liver and pancreas. These control physiological processes, like managing your blood sugar, cholesterol, hormone secretion and digestion.

“If you eat at a time that’s contradictory to your circadian system, it throws off the peripheral clocks,” explains Josna Adusumilli, M.D., a neurologist and sleep medicine physician at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Such misalignment of metabolic processes can affect your would-be rest time.

You should ideally eat a balanced dinner (one that includes protein, carbs and fiber), and finish the meal at least two hours before bedtime because eating cues your body that it’s time to be awake. The human body was not meant to digest food lying down. However, since being hungry can also interfere with sleep, if you need a snack, you should make it count. Here are some foods that might help your body feel more ready to call it a night.

Kiwi. Kiwi is good for boosting your immunity and contains a high concentration of serotonin, which is a precursor for the hormone melatonin that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Kiwifruits are filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, so they make a good replacement for less nutritious nighttime snacks.

Pumpkin seeds. An ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 37% of your daily magnesium, a mineral linked with healthy sleep. Magnesium is part of the mechanics that relax your brain and body, so you can fall asleep at night.

Cheese. Try a few cubes of cheese. This protein-packed snack is also full of calcium, magnesium and tryptophan — all of which are necessary for a good night’s sleep. Research shows that eating two tablespoons of cottage cheese 30 to 60 minutes before bed supports metabolism and muscle recovery.

Tart cherry juice. It has a high dietary melatonin concentration and has also been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory characteristics that may be beneficial in improving sleep quality.

Tea. Chamomile tea has been used for years as a sleep aid for its calming and antioxidant properties. It also contains apigenin, a flavonoid (plant nutrient) that promotes sleepiness. However, this isn’t the only type of herbal tea to try. Low-caffeine green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that research has found can help lower stress and significantly improve sleep quality.

Reference: AARP (Oct. 5, 2021) “Superfoods to Help You Sleep”

Suggested Key Terms: Senior Health

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