12 Best & Worst Foods for Sleep

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This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

We can no longer deny the science behind our need for better sleep. More and more research points to the relationship between lack of sleep and health concerns like memory problems, obesity and even heart disease.

While there remains little research on the association between specific foods and sleep, anecdotal evidence, coupled with what we know about the chemical compounds in many foods, would suggest some foods promote a good night’s rest while others leave you less-than-restored the next day.

Here are some of the best and worst foods for a deep, restful night of sleep.

5 Best Foods for Sleep

While some experts advocate abstaining from any food at all for several hours before bedtime, if you opt to eat late at night, the foods below are good choices.

Bananas: It’s no wonder that a sleepy-time recipe for banana-cinnamon tea took the world by storm last year. Bananas contain high levels of magnesium, which is a muscle relaxant, as well as serotonin and melatonin, hormones that promote sleep. In addition, they’re rich in potassium, a mineral that plays a role in regulating sleep patterns.

Tart Cherry Juice: In what was good news for many, a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that tart cherry juice can modestly extend sleep time — by up to 90 minutes in fact. The reason: Tart cherry juice contains high levels of melatonin, as well as the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan.

Oatmeal: On those nights that you want to have breakfast for dinner, oatmeal is a great choice. It is plentiful in calcium, phosphorus, silicon and magnesium, all of which are minerals that support deep sleep cycles. If you’d like to sweeten it, opt for a little raw, organic honey as a sugar substitute.

Almonds: If you need an easy bedtime snack, reach for a handful of magnesium and tryptophan-rich almonds.

Turkey: Many of us learn the hard way every Thanksgiving, but turkey contains a healthy dose of tryptophan.

7 Worst Foods for Sleep

All enemies of restful sleep, it’s best to avoid these foods before bed:

Coffee, Tea and Sodas: Caffeinated coffee, tea and soda flood your bloodstream with a stimulant that takes hours to work through your system. Although some people don’t have adverse effects from consuming one of these drinks before bedtime, anyone with sleep problems should abstain from them.

Chocolate: Despite the many health benefits associated with dark chocolate consumption, restful sleep is not one of them, as it, too, contains caffeine. A mug of hot cocoa at bedtime may seem comforting, but it can interfere with sleep in people who are caffeine-sensitive.

Alcohol: Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not your late-night friend if what you’re after is deep, restorative sleep. A nightcap many enable healthy people to fall asleep faster, but it reduces rapid-eye-movement (REM), a phase of the sleep cycle that is thought to be particularly restorative. The more alcohol a person consumes, the more disruptive it is to REM sleep.

Fatty Foods: High-fat foods such as ice cream, burgers or whole milk, stimulate the production of acid in the stomach, which can get into the esophagus and cause sleep-disrupting heartburn.

Spicy Food: The heart-health benefits of peppers abound, but spicy food can interfere with sleep if it’s consumed late in the day. A study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found people whose dinner included mustard and Tabasco sauce had more awake-time at night.

Hard Cheese: A disappointing surprise for many cheese and wine lovers, hard cheeses often contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid that boosts alertness.

Water: Shocked to see this on the list? While it’s well known that dehydration can negatively impact everything from skin to digestion to heart health, the fact is, drinking water (or any beverage) before bed is taboo. Why? It could wake you up hours later. According to Today Show Nutritionist Joy Bauer, “It takes about 90 minutes for the body to process liquids, so limit liquids of any kind for at least 90 minutes prior to bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night.”

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