8 Foods That Help You Sleep
Shortchanging your sleep makes you feel pretty crummy (as you likely know!), but the impact is even worse than you may think. Poor sleep can weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to viruses; it ups your risk of injury during intense workouts; and it can alter your appetite-regulating hormones, making you feel hungrier while simultaneously intensifying cravings. Sleep is no joke, yet according to the CDC, we’re a sleep deprived nation, with up to one-third of us failing to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Instead of going down the path of the sleep deprived, you can set yourself up for a better night’s rest by focusing on your menu. Here are eight foods that help you sleep better, plus delicious ways to incorporate them into your routine.
Tart or sour Montmorency cherries are high in melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. In one small study, participants experienced longer and more refreshing sleep after consuming a juice concentrate made from this fruit. "Research has found adding tart cherries to your diet can improve both quality and quantity of sleep in individuals who suffer from insomnia," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD. Fresh tart cherries are harder to find than sweet ones, but you can find them frozen, dried, or in juice form.
An ounce of almonds supplies nearly 25 percent of the magnesium women need per day, and this mineral is sorely lacking in our diets. In fact, data indicates that almost 80 percent of us aren’t taking in sufficient magnesium. And research suggests that poor magnesium levels may be related to insomnia.
In order to fall asleep, your brain needs to chill out, and magnesium may help with the process. In a study in mice given magnesium, the mineral acted as a sort of “chill pill,” similar to what you’d expect from anti-anxiety drugs. It also turns out that the receptors magnesium binds to in the brain, known as the GABA receptors, are the same ones that prescription sleep pills act upon.
Because of their high magnesium levels, almonds are one of the top foods that help you sleep better. You can snack on almonds, mix them with yogurt or sprinkle them on salads. Or try a homemade granola. DIY granola is so worth the extra effort because it doesn’t skimp on pricier ingredients, like nuts, that are often in short supply in store-bought brands.
In a study that looked at the sleep differences among several diets—higher in protein, fat, or carbs compared to a standard control diet—participants experienced fewer sleep disturbances on the high-carb diet compared to any of the others. (That’s right, carb lovers!)
Oats are a healthy whole grain source of carbohydrates, as well as a good source of magnesium. Get your day off to the right start—and finish—by enjoying a bowl of overnight oats for breakfast. Bonus: This recipe pairs high-carb oats with almonds—another food that helps you sleep better.
If you’re like 95 percent of Americans, you’re probably falling short on fiber, and that can take a toll on your sleep patterns. One study found that a lower fiber diet was linked with less deep, restorative sleep, and that a higher fiber intake was associated with a longer period of that deep, quality form of sleep.
Most adults need between 25 grams and 35 grams of fiber per day (men are at the higher end of the spectrum) and a cup of raspberries provides a whopping 9 grams! This pretty smoothie bowl, which includes other sources of fiber, such as chia seeds and kiwi, will have you well on your way to upping your fiber intake and sleeping more soundly.
If you’re not already paying attention to your gut health, here’s another reason to start: Your microbiome, which is the collection of trillions of bugs in your gut, is connected to your sleep patterns. An increasing number of studies point to the fact that your microbiome is involved in regulating your mood, your stress levels, and your sleep rhythms. In fact, the species of bacteria in your gut likely adhere to a circadian rhythm much like we do!
One of the best ways to keep your microbiome healthy is to add to the collection of good bacteria with probiotic-rich foods. In one study, eating a yogurt snack three or four times a week was shown to increase beneficial gut bacteria as well as the diversity of bacterial strains—both of which indicate a healthy microbiome.
Of course, it’s easy to pick up a container of yogurt, but it’s actually not that difficult to make it yourself. Here’s a two-ingredient recipe that takes you through the process. Once you’re done, you could add nuts, fruit, a spoonful of granola, or some fresh herbs.
High stress levels can also make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. "In addition to adding regular exercise to your day and practicing deep breathing to offset stress, eating foods rich in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce circulating stress hormones in the body," explains Erin Palinski-Wade, RD. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, clementines, lemons, and limes. Strawberries and legumes are also packed with vitamin C.
According to Palinski-Wade, salmon is a top-notch source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease your body's amount of stress hormones. Unlike almost all other types of fat, omega-3 fatty acids are considered "essential," which means you have to get them from your diet because your body is unable to create them itself. A 3.5-ounce portion of wild-caught salmon has 2.6 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel is another great fatty fish for stress reduction (and sound sleep).
"Adding magnesium-rich foods to your plate can clearly help to improve sleep, especially in individuals who suffer from middle of the night insomnia, where they wake up and are unable to fall back asleep," explains Palinski-Wade. "Research has found that a diet lacking in magnesium may make it more difficult to fall back asleep." To make sure you're meeting your magnesium needs each day, add leafy greens—in addition to legumes, nuts, and seeds (as mentioned previously) to your plate along with a variety of whole grains. Leafy greens are also an excellent source of vitamin C, which decreases stress. Try arugula, spinach, chard, or kale.