After a few hours of tossing and turning in bed, frustration can start to build. That said, there are tons of easy ways to improve your sleep, like sipping a cup of tea or meditating. We recently spoke with Nilong Vyas, MD, sleep expert at Sleepless in New Orleans and medical review expert at SleepFoundation.org, who looked at the powerful role food can have on the quality of your sleep. . Plus, Dr. Vyas told us what to buy at the grocery store to make sure a good night’s rest is just a bite away.
Fact: The three most important compounds that regulate sleep can be boosted by what you eat
According to Dr. Vyas, our chances of getting quality rest are affected by various compounds in the body, many of which are strongly influenced by the foods we eat. “Many hormones and chemicals in the body regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and certain foods can help increase these regulatory hormones for optimal sleep,” says Dr. Vyas. That said, there are three key compounds to remember when choosing the best foods to promote better sleep. “Substances that aid sleep are the sleep hormone melatonin, an amino acid tryptophan, and the mineral magnesium,” she says. Fortunately, foods containing these compounds are not only great for sleep, but also beneficial for a balanced diet.
1. Foods That Boost Melatonin Levels to Support Circadian Rhythms
You may already be very familiar with melatonin, a hormone produced in your brain that can affect sleep, especially in supplement form. Melatonin regulates your circadian rhythm, which is the natural sleep-wake cycle that tells your body to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. As the light dims, your melatonin levels increase, which helps you fall asleep.
Sometimes, some may turn to gummies and other supplements for extra melatonin to get better rest. That said, Dr. Vyas notes that melatonin is likely present in many popular foods. This includes two staple foods: eggs and fish. “Eggs and fish are both responsible for raising serum melatonin levels,” she says. However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, Dr. Vyas says other foods, like tomatoes and peppers, are also great melatonin-rich options. Nuts (especially pistachios and walnuts) also have some of the highest melatonin levels available in foods and are easy to keep on hand for a snack before bedtime.
Nuts (especially pistachios and walnuts) also have some of the highest melatonin levels available in foods and are easy to keep on hand for a snack before bedtime.
2. Magnesium-rich foods to promote relaxation
In addition to melatonin-rich foods, Dr. Vyas recommends stocking up on magnesium-rich foods when seeking to achieve deep sleep. “Magnesium is a mineral in the body that helps with muscle relaxation, which is essential for getting restful sleep,” she says. Magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens and nuts, such as almonds and cashews.
“Avocados and dark chocolate are also on the list for boosting magnesium levels. However, be careful not to consume dark chocolate within three hours of sleeping, as it also contains caffeine and theobromine and can keep sensitive people awake,” adds Dr Vyas.
3. Foods Filled with Tryptophan to Increase Sleep Hormones
Of course, after a big Thanksgiving meal, it’s no surprise that many people fall into a mild food coma. That’s partly because certain foods, like turkey, are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is the precursor to the body’s relaxation hormones serotonin and melatonin. In addition to turkey, Dr. Vyas also recommends tryptophan-rich foods like chicken and chia seeds. Plus, research also suggests that tryptophan-rich foods can simultaneously help fight inflammation and promote gut health, a win-win.
When should you eat these foods for the best sleep benefits?
According to Dr. Vyas, it’s important to give your body at least three to four hours to digest a hearty meal before hitting the hay. Typically, she suggests consuming these foods once or twice a day for at least five days and up to two hours before bedtime to help increase circulating levels of these chemicals in the blood. However, she notes that more research needs to be done to find out the precise amounts of each food group to increase blood levels of the hormone or mineral.
Typically, she suggests consuming these foods once or twice a day for at least five days and up to two hours before bedtime to help increase circulating levels of these chemicals in the blood.
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