Whether it’s overall stress, anxiety related to the coronavirus or other factors, it seems that we just aren’t sleeping well. Pinpointing the exact cause can be tough, but sometimes the problem — and the solution — are right on your plate or in your cup.
There’s undoubtedly a link between the drinks and foods consumed throughout the day, especially closer to bedtime, that can result in tossing and turning. HuffPost consulted with dietitians to learn more about what foods to eat (or avoid) for a more restful night.
Though no particular food is a magic cure, there are certain food groups or properties that are beneficial to overall health. It’s also important to note that while everybody may need a different amount of sleep (as much as 10 hours or as little as six), many experts define sleep as “good” if it results in you waking up feeling rested.
Look for foods that are high in melatonin
Melatonin is a natural hormone that’s sometimes referred to as the sleep hormone. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of circadian rhythms and with sleep.
Though melatonin is produced in the body, you can also consume foods that contain it, like almonds, which you can snack on throughout the day.
And then there’s tryptophan, which you’ve likely heard of in reference to the Thanksgiving turkey that has been rumored to make you sluggish. But foods like cottage cheese and plain yogurt also contain tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin and can help you get a good night’s sleep.
If you’re consuming a large portion of melatonin-rich foods or taking a supplement, wait at least an hour or 30 minutes before going to bed, respectively, which is the amount of time it takes for the melatonin to have an effect on the body.
Look for foods that contain magnesium
Similar to melatonin, magnesium is another winner when it comes to catching more sleep.
Magnesium’s role in promoting sleep is thought to be related to its ability to reduce inflammation. Additionally, it may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to interrupt sleep.
Eat whole foods, not processed foods
Whole foods, which are typically defined as being minimally processed and packed with fiber, are another food category to consume from throughout the day so your stomach is happy at night.
Whole foods, including complex carbohydrates that are slower digesting, can help keep the body balanced in this way.
These foods contribute to overall, balanced nutrition and ultimately prove helpful when it’s time to hit the hay. They help settle the digestive system, while sugary or overly processed meals can lead to spikes in blood sugar.
This includes a breakfast consisting of whole grain porridge with dried or fresh fruit and toasted nuts, or eggs with 100% whole grain bread.
For lunch or dinner, try a pan-seared salmon with bulgur pilaf, which is also packed with magnesium. The fish can easily be swapped out for tofu, tempeh or seitan to make the meal vegan.
All of the experts agree that it’s not just what you eat, but also when you eat. Allow two hours or more between your last bite of food and bed, no matter what you choose to eat, and one hour before when it comes to beverages. Space your meals between four to five hours apart so your body has time to digest the food.
Stay away from caffeine
That late-afternoon cup of coffee might just have you tossing and turning in the middle of the night and into early morning. Caffeine — coffee, soda and chocolate — should be stopped for at least four to six hours before going to sleep. Caffeine can stay in the system for up to 12 hours.
Sipping on a glass of wine or downing a few beers to relax in the evening can end up hurting you. In fact alcohol before bed can impair sleep quality. While alcohol might make us fall asleep, it disrupts our REM cycle, otherwise known as the most restorative component of our sleep cycle.
Say no to spicy foods
Spicy foods can be irritating as they work their way through your digestive system,” resulting in discomfort or even pain as the food moves through your gastrointestinal trac