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Eat, sleep, repeat: foods that help you sleep

Eat, sleep, repeat: foods that help you sleep

As New Orleanians, we love food. It’s central to our identity, and we cherish our favorite dishes—even though the rich and spicy ones may interrupt a good night’s sleep. If more restful nights are your goal, try adding foods that help you sleep. Just don’t expect them to do all the work.

No single food or group of foods holds the key to better sleep. Your first priority should be to follow a balanced, nutritious diet and live an active, healthy lifestyle. Part of that process includes eating foods that contain tryptophan and melatonin, two substances that help promote sleep. Eating sleep-promoting foods in moderation while following good sleep hygiene practices may help with insomnia.

Meet the substances that aid sleep

Why do certain foods help you sleep? The answer lies in the substances they contain. Tryptophan, for example, is an amino acid found in certain foods, notably turkey. You may have heard about tryptophan around Thanksgiving to help explain post-meal drowsiness.

Tryptophan helps your body produce the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin may play a role in controlling sleep. Melatonin helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle.

Beneficial bites

No food can lay claim to being the best to eat before bed. However, incorporating the following foods into a balanced diet may lead to healthier sleep cycles:

  • Bananas. Bananas are potassium powerhouses. This mineral can help you stay asleep.
  • Cheese. Cheese contains tryptophan and calcium. Calcium helps process tryptophan so your body can use it.
  • Cherries. Tart cherries are a good source of melatonin.
  • Chicken and turkey. It’s not a Thanksgiving tall tale—turkey contains sleep-inducing tryptophan. You can also find this amino acid in chicken.
  • Dark chocolate. Enjoy this sweet treat in moderation to obtain tryptophan.
  • Eggs. Like other high-protein foods, eggs contain tryptophan.
  • Fatty fish. Halibut, salmon and other fatty fish are rich in vitamin B6, which helps make melatonin.
  • Kale. Renowned as a superfood, this leafy green contains the tryptophan processor calcium.
  • Milk. Milk contains melatonin and if cows are milked in the evening, it contains even more of the hormone.
  • Nuts. You can find tryptophan in and increase serotonin levels by eating almonds, walnuts and other nuts.
  • Whole grains. Magnesium in whole grains may help you stay asleep.

Sleep saboteurs

Certain foods can hinder sleep by triggering acid reflux. These include rich or spicy foods, tomatoes, oranges, lemons and foods high in fat or caffeine. Drinking alcohol or coffee can also lead to acid reflux.

Just as the foods you choose can help or hinder sleep, how and when you eat can also affect your ability to get a good night’s rest—and influence your overall health. Follow these tips for daily dining to help with sleep:

  • Be consistent. Eat meals at the same times each day, if possible.
  • Don’t eat too late. Eating an hour before bedtime can make for a restless night. Instead, give yourself a buffer by eating dinner several hours before turning in, and keep the fare light rather than heavy. If you have diabetes, eating a large meal too close to bedtime can cause elevated blood sugar levels that last until morning.
  • Remember the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast may lead you to overeat later in the day—perhaps too close to bedtime.

You can do more to promote good sleep by going to bed and waking up on a consistent schedule, not using electronic devices before bedtime, and keeping your bedroom dark and cool.

A gastrointestinal condition can affect your sleep. If symptoms are keeping you up at night, find out how digestive care at LCMC Health can help.