Your All-Day Diet for a Better Night’s Sleep

A pro-sleep diet starts not just before you go to bed, but the moment you wake up. Here’s what to eat and what to avoid for a night of great ZZZ’s.

How Food Affects Your Sleep

Poor sleep has been linked to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high-blood pressure, depression, and more. A 2012 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that the more tired you are, the more you eat during the day in attempt to perk yourself up, which can easily add up to weight gain over time. Although there’s no set menu for eating for better sleep, there are little tweaks you can make all day for a more restful night. So instead of sleeping poorly, downing caffeine every morning, reaching for sugary snacks every afternoon, and repeating the cycle day after day, try these little changes to eat and sleep more effectively.

How to Eat All Day so You Sleep Well All Night

The first step toward better sleep is eating balanced, nutritious meals and snacks evenly spaced throughout the day. Eat too little during the day, and you’ll overstuff yourself in the evening, leading to a night of tossing, turning, and indigestion. Eat too little for dinner, and you might find yourself lying awake, longing for a trip to the fridge.

If you have GI issues such as gluten or lactose intolerance, eating certain foods in the evening can sabotage your sleep, too. Take time to learn your GI triggers, such as spicy food or alcohol, and avoid them, so you can drift off discomfort-free. It’s also important to aim to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day — experts say this will keep your stomach and your brain on a similar sleep schedule.

Skip Sugar and Caffeine

According to the National Sleep Foundation, consuming more than three 8-ounce cups of caffeine a day may impact sleep, and six or more cups is considered to be excessive intake. Because the body takes about six hours to metabolize caffeine, drinking or eating foods with caffeine is not recommended within several hours of lights out. It’s important to remember that people react to caffeine differently, so find a pattern of consumption that works for you.

Sugar has also been tied to sleep problems. A study at the University of Californi at San Francisco, found that children with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have trouble sleeping if they have elevated blood sugar levels. Because sugar gives you a temporary energy boost, it’s best to avoid sugar and other processed foods shortly before bed.

Reach for Complex Carbs

Studies show that the best bedtime snack is one with complex carbs and a little bit of protein, such as cereal with milk or a small piece of whole-wheat bread with a dab of peanut butter.

If you want to go to sleep quickly, research indicates that eating the majority of your daily recommended amount of carbohydrates at night will help. In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that when participants ate a carb-rich dinner that included high-glycemic index jasmine rice instead of lower-GI long-grain rice, they fell asleep faster. Researchers speculate the insulin triggered by the high-GI meal led to more sleep-inducing tryptophan in the brain, faster.

Sip a Soothing Drink

Some people swear by the soothing effects of chamomile tea, even though scientific research on the subject has been mixed. One clinical trial found that chamomile can reduce anxiety in humans, and in large doses, help animals sleep, but more trials need to be conducted to see if the same holds true for humans. A 2011 study published in the journal Emotion suggests that hot drinks might help people feel less lonely and more secure — both factors that can contribute to a good night’s sleep.

If you have an upset stomach late at night, the old wives’ tale that peppermint tea can help might be true, according to 2006 research by scientists at Tufts University. They found peppermint tea to be a digestive aid — it may even have antiallergenic potential — meaning it can help you drift off to sleep more serenely.

Beef Up Your B Vitamins

The belief that turkey makes you tired, thanks to its high levels of serotonin-producing tryptophan, might be a bit of an exaggeration. Still, the tryptophan and the bird’s B vitamins can contribute to a better night’s sleep, just not with the immediate effect you think you feel after a heavy Thanksgiving meal. Turns out, the vitamin B6 found in food such as poultry, fish, chickpeas, and bananas helps your body process tryptophan and turn it into sleep-inducing serotonin faster. According to the National Institutes of Health, you can get the daily recommended amount of 1 to 1.5 milligrams of B6 by eating two to three daily servings of a B6-rich food.

Another B vitamin that helps you sleep is B3, which is naturally found in beets, pork, poultry, and peanuts. B3, also known as niacin, is a common ingredient in herbal sleep aids because it can extend your REM cycle and limit the number of times you wake up in the middle of the night.

Make Room for Milk

There’s a reason why the “glass of warm milk” adage has become so popular: Certain nutrients in milk, like tryptophan and B vitamins, may act as natural sleep aids, according to a 2012 paper published in the journal Nutrition Research. To keep your sleep functioning normally, aim to consume three to four servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy each day.

Try Cherries before Bed

A lesser-known alternative to warm milk is a surprisingly brighter snack — fresh cherries or cherry juice. A 2010 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that drinking cherry juice right before bed is a good way to help you get to sleep. In fact, some research has found it to be just as effective as taking melatonin, the over-the-counter hormone that encourages sleep, before bed. Not only is this a healthy way to promote sleep, but adding another serving of fruit to your day is also a healthy choice for your diet.

Annie Hauser