Ah, sleep. Who knew something we protested so much as children would become something we value so much as adults? Whether it’s because of our increased work and personal demands, inability to unplug from our smartphones at night, or stress that is, unfortunately, keeping us up, the United States seems to be in a nationwide sleep-deprived state. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep deprivation – less than 7 hours per night – has been linked to irritability, anxiety, lack of motivation or energy, forgetfulness, and even poor decisions. Sleep is yet another crucial piece of the complex health puzzle that impacts our overall wellbeing and quality of life.
And as with most things related to our health, the foods we eat and the activities we engage in can make an impact. While there’s no silver bullet or magic weapon to suddenly guarantee you’ll get a solid night’s sleep, a diet rich in unprocessed, whole foods is a great way to start.
Below are seven foods that may positively impact your sleep quality or promote a night of restful sleep.
- Milk. Most of us have probably heard that drinking a glass of warm milk will make you sleepy, but some sleep experts argue that this impact is likely psychological, especially if you associate warm milk with bedtime. Whether the impact is significant or not, milk does contain the amino acid tryptophan which is converted to the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which is then converted into sleep-triggering melatonin. Whew! Still with us?
- Tart Cherry Juice. A 2012 study from the European Journal of Nutrition found that intake of tart cherry juice increased total melatonin intake – the well-known sleep-promoting hormone that plays a role in your body’s circadian rhythm, or the body’s natural daily cycle that responds to light and darkness. The individuals that drank the tart cherry juice slept longer and had improved sleep quality. Try incorporating dried tart cherries in your homemade granola or including tart cherry juice in your pre-bedtime smoothie.
- Walnuts. According to a 2013 study from the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, walnuts may contribute to improved sleep based on their total serotonin and melatonin content, both of which play a role in regulating sleep. While research on walnuts and sleep is scarce, this heart-healthy nut is a good choice to include in meals, snacks, and smoothies because of their health-promoting properties.
- Veggies. If you need another reason to eat your fruits and vegetables, here you go! Aside from protecting our bodies from a plethora of chronic illnesses, regular intake of fruits and vegetables can improve your sleep, too. Studies have pointed out that a low intake of fruits and vegetables with a higher intake of overly processed foods are associated with poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration.
- Oats and Other Complex Carbohydrates. Eating carbohydrates – primarily slowly digestible complex carbohydrates – may also be beneficial for promoting sleep. A small bowl of oatmeal prior to bedtime, for example, may help to shorten the time it takes you to fall asleep.
- Dark Chocolate. Chocolate lovers, rejoice. Dark chocolate is perhaps the best-known food sources of potentially increasing serotonin levels. Munch on a small piece of dark chocolate post-dinner that contains at least 70% cocoa to satisfy your sweet tooth and help encourage a good night’s sleep.
- Chamomile Tea. For years, chamomile tea has been a go-to beverage to calm nerves, prevent insomnia, and promote sleep. Aside from the benefits linked to sleep, chamomile also offers anti-inflammatory benefits and even bone density protection. Sip on a warm glass with a drizzle of honey to promote healthful sleep and overall well-being.
If you’re hungry prior to bedtime, opt for a simple smoothie that will leave you feeling satisfied and not overly stuffed. Make this recipe below and divide it into two portions: one small glass for tonight and one for tomorrow. Sweet dreams!
Sip on this smoothie before it’s time to hit the hay. This ingredient combination of complex carbohydrates and calcium-rich protein may gear you up for a restful night’s sleep. Feel free to top your small smoothie with some dark chocolate shavings or 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried tart cherries.
- ½ cup frozen cherries
- ¼ cup whole rolled oats
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 date, pitted
- 1 cup of reduced-fat milk
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup ice (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons dried tart cherries, for garnish
- All ingredients in the order listed, minus the dried tart cherries, and blend until smooth.
- Top with dried tart cherries.