Sweet dreams: The right foods for a good night’s sleep

January 28, 2008

Do you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone.

  • More than 100 million Americans of all ages regularly fail to get a good night’s sleep.
  • More than 35 million Americans complain of chronic insomnia (poor sleep every night or most nights.)
  • One in four Americans takes some kind of sleep medication.
  • Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are estimated to cost Americans over $100 billion annually in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and property and environmental damage (National Sleep Foundation).

What you eat affects how you sleep. One of the keys to a restful night’s sleep is to get your brain calmed rather than revved up. Some foods contribute to restful sleep; other foods keep you awake. Foods that help you sleep are tryptophan-containing foods.

Tryptophan (which is converted to an amino acid called L-tryptophan) is the raw material that the brain uses to build sleep-inducing substances (relaxing neurotransmitters) serotonin and melatonin. Adequate serotonin levels promote deep, restorative sleep. Eating carbohydrates with tryptophan-containing foods makes this calming amino acid more available to the brain. A high carbohydrate meal stimulates the release of insulin, which helps clear those amino acids that compete with tryptophan from the bloodstream, allowing more of this natural sleep-inducing amino acid to enter the brain and manufacture sleep-inducing substances. Eating a high-protein meal without accompanying carbohydrates may keep you awake, since protein-rich foods also contain the amino acid, tyrosine, which perks up the brain.

Foods for a good night’s sleep:
(Foods that are high in carbohydrates and calcium, and medium-to-low in protein are ideal for promoting sleep)

  • Dairy products: cottage cheese, cheese, milk
  • Soy products: soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts
  • Honey
  • Almonds
  • Banana
  • Seafood
  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Hummus
  • Lentils
  • Turkey
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Eggs
  • Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds
  • Papaya
  • Mushrooms
  • Grapefruit

Sleep-inducing bedtime snacks
An all-carbohydrate snack, especially one high in junk sugars, is less likely to help you sleep. You’ll miss out on the sleep-inducing effects of tryptophan, and you may set off the roller-coaster effect of plummeting blood sugar followed by the release of stress hormones that will keep you awake.

The best bedtime snack is one that has both complex carbohydrates and protein, and some calcium. Calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. That’s why dairy products, which contain both tryptophan and calcium, are one of the top sleep-inducing foods.

For a good night’s sleep try:

  • a glass of warm milk with honey is one of the oldest and best remedies for insomnia
  • whole-grain cereal with milk
  • hazelnuts and tofu
  • peanut butter sandwich
  • slice of whole wheat toast topped with a small slice of low-fat cheese
  • banana with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter
  • rice cake topped with a slice turkey breast

Note: It takes around one hour for the tryptophan in the foods to reach the brain, so don’t wait until right before bedtime to have your snack.

Foods that can interfere with sleep:
Some components of food, such as caffeine, artificially wake us up, so it makes no sense to have stimulant-containing foods before bed. Unfortunately, this applies not only to coffee, but to all caffeine-containing foods, and to theophylline-containing foods (like black tea) as well. Chocolate and many soft drinks (including diet soft drinks) have substantial amounts of caffeine. An ounce of chocolate can contain 10-60 mg of caffeine, and a soft drink will usually fall into this same range. Brewed coffee can have over 100 mg per cup, depending on the grind and brewing time. Eliminating these foods from your evening meal routine is recommended for improved sleep.

Other foods to avoid:

  • Alcohol and nicotine. Do not use alcohol to help you fall asleep. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, once it wears off, the sleep tends to be fragmented. Also, limit nicotine prior to bedtime, as it is a stimulant and will keep you up.
  • Heavy meals less than three hours prior to bed. Meals loaded with calories and fat rev up active digestion and can often leave you feeling uncomfortably full or, even worse, cause heartburn or aggravate a hiatal hernia.
  • Fatty or spicy foods
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Onions

*Do you have a natural remedy that helps you sleep better? We’d love to hear from you. Please write and share it with others.

Sources: http://www.healthassist.net/conditions/food-sleep.shtml, http://www.sleepmedonline.com/res/stats.htm, http://www.sleepfoundation.org

22 Responses to “Sweet dreams: The right foods for a good night’s sleep”

  1. Editor Says:

    My Mom always had warm milk and graham crackers before she went to bed. Milk has twice the amount of tryptophan as any other food so if you like milk that’s your best best. Here’s a recipe I came across for the milk/honey combo mentioned above.
    Milk and Honey Sleep Remedy

    1 glass warm milk
    1 drop vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon honey
    Use this just before going to bed. Mix, then drink while it is still warm.

  2. Carol Haney Says:

    I use this recipe a lot and it works like a charm. Not only do I go to sleep soon thereafter, but I sleep soundly when I use it.

    1 cup of skim milk
    1/2 sliced banana
    warm milk in microwave
    Place milk in blender for 45 seconds till frothy
    Add 1 tsp honey

    • emily Says:

      Thats sounds so light, and really yummy. my problem is i dont sleep till mid morning till early afternoon.. and most dreams i have are very strange or creepy. I dont know why.

  3. annierichardson Says:

    Ok, I’m a believer! The milk and honey combo works! After a few years of not sleeping well at all, a sleep study (I have insomnia), being offered all kinds of drugs (that I will not take), every tea combo you can think of (there seems to be a good bit of caffeine in tea), I tried the warm milk and honey and I have been sleeping like a charm! I usually drink it about a half hour before bedtime. Thanks Carol for your banana recipe (above). I’m trying that tonight!It sounds yummy.

  4. annierichardson Says:

    I’m sleeping better! The recipe that works best for me is:

    Small glass of warm milk (4-6oz)
    Approximately 1/2 to 1 teaspoon honey
    Mix together.
    Drink just before bedtime.

  5. Editor Says:

    Also, be sure to avoid caffeine, alcohol, AND sugar for several hours before bedtime. Most people know about the caffeine and alcohol but sugar is a biggie. You’ll see a difference, and sleep better, if you eliminate it.

    • Mike Edmonds Says:

      Doesn’t honey simply add sugar? Has anyone tried with and without honey to see which is best?

      • emily Says:

        I always thought that the honey just adds a bit of sweet calming taste. And being only a teaspoon or so isnt much effective sugar I dont think.

  6. jessie Says:

    does it matter if the milk is whole, semiskimmed or 1% fat?

  7. Leanne Says:

    I hope this works as I have tried many sleep remedies

  8. Ralph Says:

    cool. my teacher at the college i go to recommended
    the 1/2 banana, 1 tsp honey + warm milk.

  9. neepa Says:

    i have also insomnia for a long time. .i have to try this. Thank u

  10. Thanks everyone! I shall try out several of these suggestions! 😀

  11. ethelponder Says:

    I have been drinking a cup of warm 2% milk with 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract at night before going to bed. It helps me to sleep soundly. I have been sleeping better than I have in the past few years. If you are lactose intolerant, the Lactaid also works.

  12. karishma Says:

    karishma: thanx alot guys i am suffering from very bad insominia since 1 year and still iam struggling with that.hope this tips will work for me aswell(fingercross)…

  13. prode zidon Says:

    I love your news it is akind of informative people like myself searching something helpful for health.God bless

  14. Agnes Says:

    this is really educative, I will nee more of those and will
    implement the above remedy because I do not get emough
    sleep. Please send me more of those.

  15. lelia Says:

    Thanks! the recipes of warm milk, banana, vanilla & honey are all good & healthy! God Bless us all !

  16. Scott S Says:

    I’ve had insomnia for decades. I tried all sorts of sleep medications, one which I found out was for someone with very hard core sleep problems, and they barely worked. I make my own pizza. This time I loaded on my thick crust pizza about a half pound each of mushrooms and cheese. Each time I ate a couple of slices I actually passed out within a 1/2 hour!!!! This is even when I woke up later well rested and then had a couple of more slices.

    I did some research and found out why. Almost everything in it induces sleep. The mushrooms and cheese had tryptophan in it. I read to help the tryptophan work take carbs and fat. Complex carbs are better. The pizza dough has the carbs. The cheese has the fat.

    Next time you need to sleep, order a pizza with triple mushrooms and double cheese or take a tryptophan supplement and eat a whole grain bagel and cream cheese. You get the idea. .Anything along these lines should work.

    But read up on tryptophan side effects. It can have some serious problems if you use it regularly, particularly in large doses. Try to only use it to get on a sleep schedule. Also watch out for things in your diet that can keep you awake.

    I have no intention of living on pizza but I hope I’ve found a reliable cure for my insomnia when I need it.

  17. joe Says:

    Hi everyone, I take up to 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, right before bed , helps my well being almost everytime.

  18. I am in my 70,s I suffer with Combat, stress depressant severe P.T.S.D as well as my combat time memories jumped on me 15 years ago, The V.A. , as well as my Family doctors please have prescribed meds, nothing seems to work any more, have been prescribed several major medications as time goes on seems depression and COMBAT memories come more frequently anyone with idea tell me, ,,Thanks.

    • annierichardson Says:

      Hi Gordon, I am so very sorry to hear sleep problems and PTSD. I know how difficult that can be as my own father suffered with the very same thing. I also personally have suffered from trauma, depression, and my own sleeping difficulties. I respect that not everyone is open to it, but will tell you that my faith is the only thing that has gotten me (and also greatly helped my father) through the struggle. I truly believe that when we call out to Christ as our Lord and Savior he gives us new life. And he gives us the Holy Spirit as our Counselor. Through his word we learn that we are loved and cherished and worth all that he possible can give. Our mind becomes renewed and we realize a peace that passes all understanding. He is the way, the truth and the life. We are not alone. If you take a step and ask the Pastor of a good, solid church to help you, you will begin to see what I am talking about. At any time, you can send out a prayer for help. God will hear you and He will answer your prayer. I will pray for you as well. God Bless you and keep you. Thank you for your service. It was not in vain. You are loved. Don’t ever forget that. Mari

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