18 foods you need to know about that all contain the magic ingredients needed for a good night's rest. Ready, steady, sleep!
It should be so simple shouldn’t it. You’re very tired and waiting for that moment when your lids become heavy and it’s time to snuggle up into your cosy bed and get your Z’s. Except there’s just one problem. It’s not that simple. You’re not switching off. You’re not relaxed. In fact the more time goes on, the more agitated you’re getting about it.
But there are things you can be doing – well, even better, eating – that will help calm and relax you ready for bed. Yes, that’s right. Foods to help you sleep; what a delightful combination.
It’s all in the science really. We won’t bore you with the details, well maybe we will a little, but basically there’s a certain little amino-acid called tryptophan which is really great for sleep. It regulates your sleep patterns and also helps with the production of sleepy brain-chemicals serotonin and melatonin. Our body can’t produce tryptophan itself, so we need to make sure we’re getting enough of it from the foods we eat.
So, here are 18 foods to help you sleep, that all contain the magic ingredients needed for a good night’s rest. Ready, steady, sleep!
Video of the Week
Cherries naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin, the hormone which is crucial for your sleep-wake cycle – and it’s true when the fruit is in juice form too.
In fact, recent research from Louisiana State University has shown that drinking 240ml of cherry juice before going to bed could help you to sleep for an average of a whopping 84 minutes longer! It turns out that the juice was found to prevent the build-up of brain chemicals that are linked to poor sleep.
It might not be your usual choice of drink, but at around £1 per carton from most supermarkets, it’s worth giving the natural insomnia remedy a try…
Sleep expert Sammy Margo explains: ‘Grains in oatmeal trigger insulin production and raise your blood sugar naturally. Oats are also rich in melatonin’ – which is the hormone that helps to control your sleep and wake cycles.
Don’t fancy eating a bowl of porridge before you hit the sheets? Try oatcakes, topped with a little cottage cheese or Philly (cheese contains tryptophan, a sleep-boosting amino acid), and you’ll quickly be on the snooze train to Slumberville.
Coconut water has long been on the health food radar for its nutritional benefits, but we had no idea that it could be the answer to our sleep problems too!
‘Coconut water is an excellent source of “electrolyte” minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium,’ explains nutritionist Cassandra Barnes. ‘Balanced levels of these minerals are necessary to maintain normal muscle action, nerve function and hydration in our body. Deficiencies or imbalances may cause cramping and restless legs at night, and therefore disturbed sleep.’
To give it a go yourself, try drinking coconut water in the evening, an hour or two before you head to bed. ‘Coconut water products from young green coconuts are thought to be the best,’ Cassandra adds.
We all know bananas are good for us, but we bet you hadn’t thought about eating the peel before…
Okay, so it might not taste fantastic, but banana skins contain loads of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and fibre, as well as a healthy dose of tryptophan, a substance which helps to create the seratonin that sends you off to the land of nod.
‘The skins of most fruits and vegetables contain the richest sources of vitamins and minerals as they are affected by the light during growth, acting to absorb the light and protect the fruit,’ British Dietetic Association spokeperson and founder of Honest Nutrition Anna Daniels explained to Metro.co.uk.
If you don’t fancy munching on a raw peel (and we can’t say we’d blame you), apparently you can get the same benefits from boiling up a cup of banana peel tea, or blending the skins into a smoothie.
Marmite fans, rejoice! Because apparently this storecupboard staple could actually help you sleep at night.
Unfortunately we’re not talking about a nice slice of toast with marmite and butter here, but to get the full benefits of the sleep-promoting properties it should be teamed up with banana and lettuce in an ultimate ‘sleep sandwich’.
The banana is a great source of magnesium and potassium, both of which can help relax overstressed muscles. And all three contain tryptophan to stimulate production of key brain calming hormones.
We’re not sure how they’d taste together, but could be worth a try if you’re lacking in sleep!
Cherries naturally boost the body’s supply of melatonin, the hormone which is crucial for your sleep-wake cycle.
Recent research has shown the benefits of cherry juice for helping sleep. Participents who drank a glass of cherry juice twice a day, once in the morning, and once before bed, were able to sleep around an hour longer (on average 84 minutes) compared to those that drank a placebo. The research is thought to be particularly helpful to older adults who are more likely to suffer from insomnia.
Sainsbury’s cherry juice is just £1 a litre and well worth the money if it gets you that extra hour’s sleep a night – yay!
Meats like beef, pork and shellfish, but particularly poultry like chicken and turkey, all contain a generous amount of our little amino-acid sleep friend, tryptophan, which may explain why it’s so darn hard to stay awake after a Christmas dinner.
A nice warming broth with one of these ingredients is the perfect meal to help send you into slumber – after you leave the table, preferably.
Natural sugars that are found in honey allow tryptophan to enter the brain more easily, sending you on a sure and smooth trip to the land of nod.
If you’re not quite sure you want to swallow a spoonful of honey every night before bed, how about stirring it into a hot drink instead?
Eggs also contain plenty of sleep-inducing tryptophan. And who doesn’t love a scrummy portion of scrambled eggs, omelette or a boiled egg (and soldiers, obviously) of an evening.
OK, so caffeinated tea is an absolute no-no, for pretty obvious reasons. In fact, there’s not much worse you can do than have a tea or coffee before bed. But herbal teas are an exception to the rule.
Camomile tea, for example, has a naturally sedative effect.
Tuna, and fish in general, is rich in tryptophan and is so quick and easy to cook.
Some oven-baked salmon for dinner, or even a can of tuna on your jacket potato, could set you up for a really great sleep session.
Yes, really. Elk is possibly one of the best tryptophan-rich meats. Perhaps not your local butcher’s cut of the day, but one to look out for. One day. Possibly…
An excuse to eat cheese and biscuits before we go to bed? We’ll take it. Cheese, and dairy products in general, are full of that all important sleep-producing amino acid.
And all that about cheese before bed giving you weird dreams? Well apparently, while it may not give you ‘weird’ dreams, a study by The British Cheeseboard showed that it can make your dreams more vivid, particularly for Stilton eaters!
Drinking a warm glass of milk before bed is probably one of the oldest tricks in the book for nodding off to sleep. And while it’s full of the essential amino-acid tryptophan, it’s thought that there might be more than just biology behind why this helps to soothe you into slumber.
It could provoke memories of sleep in childhood, if your parents used to give you a comforting glass of milk before bedtime, or it could stem even as far back as when you were a baby.
Malt drinks like Horlicks have been hailed as a night-time drink for years. We’ve already explained why milk is good for helping us to sleep, but there’s certainly something about the malt taste of this drink that aids us even further into the land of nod.
It’s also thought that the drink helps to stave off hunger overnight, therefore giving you a pleasant night, all round.
Being a dairy product, yogurt is full of tryptophan. And the banana’s not just good for sweetening up your yogurt, oh no goodtoknowers. This comforting fruit contains high levels of magnesium and potassium, both of which relax our muscles and therefore help us to loosen up and unwind.
Spinach will not only make you strong like Popeye (supposedly), but it’s full of insomnia-fighting magnesium.
A side serving of spinach with any meal before bed will definitely speed you up on your way to getting your 40 winks.
Carbohydrate-rich foods are great for sleep too, providing they’re not so heavy that you feel uncomfortable before bed.
So many people find a bowl of cereal before bed a real relaxant, and here’s the reason why; snacking on carbs stimulates the production of insulin, which helps clear the way for our dear old sleepy pal, tryptophan, to enter the brain.
A lack of magneisum in the body can make it particularly hard for people to stay asleep, and we’re sure there are plenty of you out there who have frustratingly woken up in the middle of the night at a complete loss as to why.
Nuts, like peanuts and almonds, and seeds like sunflower seeds, are high in magnesium, so get snacking on them a little while before bed and see if it makes a difference to your sleep.