The Best Foods to Help You Sleep
Ever wonder why some nights you can’t make it 10 minutes into your latest Netflix obsession without falling asleep, while other nights, you fall down a rabbit hole of cute puppy pictures at 2 a.m? (We’ve all been there.) Sure, there are a number of psychological conditions associated with sleep disruption, but it could also be linked to what you eat. Before we dive into the unsettling truth on how your diet impacts your sleep, let’s tackle some of the most common assumptions about sleepy-time food.
1. Do I need to eat Thanksgiving-level amounts of turkey to get better rest?
It’s reasonable to assume that passing out after your favorite large meal is linked to the generous portion of overcooked meat you just inhaled, but research suggests this might not be the case. We’ve all heard about tryptophan—the magical amino acid found in abundance in so-called sleep-aids like turkey. Tryptophan is known to increase the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin, which in turn is converted into sleepy-time hormone melatonin.
A variety of studies have found that tryptophan supplementation may help improve sleep at doses as low as 1 gram, while 2.5 grams may help improve obstructive sleep apnea. So turkey dinner = naptime, yes? Well, not so fast.
A typical 3-ounce serving of turkey only contains 250-310 milligrams of the stuff, which is a far cry from the 1-gram standard to show a significant effect. It also appears that when tryptophan is present with other competing amino acids in protein-rich foods (yes, like turkey), it tends to get overridden, and very little of it actually gets to the brain. The bigger coma culprit? That carb-laden marshmallow topped casserole, mashed potatoes, rolls, and pie—all of which elicit an insulin response that helps our friend tryptophan do its job. Sorry, turkey, you’re no longer the star of our Thanksgiving slumber dreams.
2. Does a nightly tea ritual help induce a deep slumber?
There’s something inherently calming about sipping on a warm cup of tea in bed, but research is inconclusive about its clinical effects. While one small study found chamomile tea helped women improve their sleep quality, another found no difference between drinkers and non-drinkers. Similarly, Valerian root tea has been used as a natural insomnia remedy for centuries, but a review of the literature suggests the research has been riddled with inconsistency, inconclusiveness, and poor methodology.
What about the lavender your grandmother swore by? Again, the research is spotty at best. While two studies found the herbs to provide modest improvements in nervousness and relaxation, after four weeks it seems they had little impact. We say grab a cup for the soothing, cozy factor and douse your pillow in a lavender spray if that seems to help you, but don’t bank on that every night to knock you out.
3. Should I take a cue from a newborn and sip warm milk before bed?
While a glass of warm milk may be emotionally comforting, like the turkey situation, it’s physiological role in sleep is likely just not strong enough to make an impact. Milk has even less of that sleep-inducing tryptophan than turkey, just about 100 mg per cup. It’s also rich in protein which may, again, decrease the amino acid’s effectiveness at inducing sleep. Still, people have been downing (and swearing by) the dairy drink for years, so do what works for you.
4. Should I forgo the chocolate and cheese after dinner to avoid disruptive dreams?
Research has found that when asked, people cited dairy products and chocolate as the most common causes of vivid, bizarre, and disturbing dreams, but these findings were based on perceptions, not actual causation. Sure, if you find that certain foods disrupt your slumber, maybe indulge a little earlier in the day, but there’s little evidence to suggest they actually have an effect. Chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine but not likely enough to keep you tossing and turning.