Foods That Can Help You Sleep for Some Much-Needed ZZZs
If you're watching a movie before you hit the sack, popcorn might be your best munchie option. Carbohydrates have been shown to help bring tryptophan to your brain. Your body uses this essential amino acid (meaning your body can't produce it on its own) to make melatonin and serotonin—a hormone and neurotransmitter, respectively, that both play a key role in regulating your sleep cycle.
Since eating a heavy meal within two hours of bedtime can keep you awake, low-calorie popcorn (which has just 30 calories and 6 g of carbs in one cup of air-popped popcorn) is a great late-night snack. Instead of dousing your popcorn in butter, jazz it up with some curry powder (or one of these creative—and flavorful—toppings).
Halibut is packed with one of the main building blocks for better sleep: tryptophan, aka that amino acid that helps make melatonin and serotonin. What's more, even researchers have found a connection between the amino acid and improved sleep. A 2013 study showed that middle-aged and elderly people who consumed cereals with high levels of tryptophan had increased sleep efficiency and slept longer than those who ate cereal with lower levels. If you aren't a fish eater, you can also get your dose of tryptophan from poultry, beef, soybeans, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and eggs.
The maraschino cherry on top of an ice cream sundae will probably lead to a sugar rush, but sweet and tart cherries are actually one of the best foods that help you sleep. Why? Melatonin. In a small study, participants drank a placebo or tart cherry juice concentrate for one week. Researchers found that those who drank the cherry juice had significantly higher melatonin levels, spent more time in bed, and slept longer and better.
Another reason you might want to add tart cherries to your diet: They may aid in muscle recovery. Researchers found that those who drank a cherry juice blend twice a day for eight days and performed bicep curls on the fourth day had fewer symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage and maintained their strength more than those who drank the placebo.
But you don't have to chug tongue-curling juice to catch some ZZZs, which is when muscle repair happens, BTW. Studies have shown that both the quality and quantity of sleep improved after consuming both sweet and tart cherries. Snack on the fruit throughout the day or gulp down a glass of juice to get the slumber benefits.
Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
Who knew the star of the show in hummus could actually be one of the secret foods that help you sleep? Researchers have found that high-fiber garbanzo beans are rich in tryptophan—220 mg per 100 g (about 1/4 of a can) to be exact. Try sprinkling garbanzo beans on top of your salad for a satisfying crunch, mixing them into stews, or concocting a protein-packed meal.
Though there are few clinical trials evaluating chamomile tea's effectiveness as a food (well, drink) that helps you sleep, chamomile has long been used as a way to treat insomnia and generate calming effects in both drinks and essential oils. One study on 80 postnatal women, however, showed that those who drank chamomile tea for two weeks had higher sleep quality than those who didn't. So break out your favorite mug and turn on the kettle.
Turns out, a small dose of sugar can actually help you catch some ZZZs. Research has shown that a rise in blood sugar can reduce the production of orexin, a neurotransmitter that's been linked to wakefulness, in the brain. For a one-two punch of foods that help you sleep, try drizzling a small amount of honey in your chamomile tea. (BTW, manuka honey isn't your run-of-the-mill golden sweetener.)
Known for its fuzzy peels and high vitamin C content, kiwi is also one of the under-the-radar foods that help you sleep. In a small 2011 study, participants who ate two kiwis an hour before bed for four weeks reported an increase in total sleep time and sleep efficiency, as well as a decrease in the amount of time they spent lying awake after initially falling asleep. So before you head to bed, make sure you munch on one of these kiwi-centric recipes.
Time to load your plate with tempeh. Soybeans have been found to be positively associated with sleep quality, thanks to the bean's isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen and thought to regulate sleep duration and quality like the hormone. As one of the best foods that help you sleep, soybeans also contain tryptophan, that amino acid that helps produce melatonin and serotonin, and L-ornithine, which can reduce stress and anxiety and thus improve sleep quality. (Related: WTF Is Natto—and Should You Try It?)
When you're feeling snacky before bedtime, a handful of walnuts might do you—and your night's sleep—some good. A study on the nutritional content of four walnut varieties found that the nut is loaded with melatonin, serotonin, and magnesium, which has been shown to increase the length of sleep time, sleep efficiency, and concentration of melatonin. If you're sick of trail mix, make a batch of this side dish featuring the top-notch food that helps you sleep. (Related: The 10 Healthiest Nuts and Seeds)