The best foods for a great night's sleep (and the worst)
A good night's sleep can promote a clearer mind, better mood and improve levels of concentration. Lack of sleep can affect your mood (grumpy Monday mornings anyone?), leave you feeling tired and lacking in energy and can even affect your immune system and cause weight gain. What you eat before bed - and what time you eat it - can affect the quality of your shut-eye (1). So what foods are best if you're after a great night's sleep, and what foods are a definite no-no?
Research has shown that tryptophan can help promote sleep by influencing the body to produce more serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for controlling our circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, so by snacking on foods rich in tryptophan (such as pumpkin seeds, turkey or soy beans), you could enjoy a better night's sleep (2). Ideally, the tryptophan should be combined with carbs, so try adding some whole grain foods such as crackers, pasta or bread and some protein such as dairy, eggs or turkey, for the perfect snack to help you nod off.
Avocado and dark leafy greens, loaded with magnesium, can help promote a sound night's sleep. A study of older adults suffering from insomnia revealed that magnesium helped to increase the quality of sleep and the length of time slept.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produce by our bodies - and it's often prescribed as a sleep aid (3). Rather than taking a supplement though, you could always try enjoying a glass of cherry juice before heading off to bed. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin and could help with insomnia.
Have a healthy snack
It's best to avoid a large meal close to bedtime - we know that if you've had a busy day at work followed by a workout at the gym, you may end up eating late. But if you do have to have dinner shortly before you go to sleep, try to keep your portion sizes small. The following healthy snacks are ideal for a great night's sleep:
- A small serving of plain, air-popped popcorn, with a drizzle of olive oil
- Semi-skimmed or dairy-free milk with some whole-grain cereal
- A slice of wholegrain toast with some nut butter
- Yoghurt with half a chopped banana
Which foods should you avoid before bed if you want to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?
Banish the booze
A couple of glasses of red wine can make you feel sleepy, no matter what the time of day, but having a drink before bedtime could actually do more harm than good to your natural sleep cycle. Nightcaps aren't recommended, as they can disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to daytime sleepiness (4). It's recommended to cut back on your drinking - no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men.
Bye-bye Ben & Jerry's
HIgh-fat foods are a no-no if the sun has gone down. Ice cream, crisps or fried foods could keep you awake. Our bodies take longer to digest high-fat foods, making it harder for us to get some rest. So avoid that tub of Ben & Jerry's and opt for some fruit and yoghurt instead, if you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth before bed.
Cut out the caffeine
We know that caffeine is a stimulant which can make us jittery and restless, so it makes sense to skip that night time cup of tea or coffee. Don't forget that caffeine is also found in energy drinks, soft drinks and chocolate.Try to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 300mg a day and stick to herbal teas at bedtime. We recommend a hot mug of chamomile tea; it's a natural sleep aid!
So what rules should you stick to when it comes to snacking before bedtime?
- Avoid large portions or heavy meals - if you have to eat dinner before bedtime, stick to smaller portion sizes and lighter options such as soup, salad or a sandwich
- Look for foods rich in tryptophan to encourage your body's production of serotonin. Turkey and whole-grain crackers or a handful of pumpkin seeds with a glass of milk could help you to nod off
- Steer clear of alcohol, high-fat foods (leave that last slice of Dominos alone!) and caffeine, as these can hinder your ability to fall asleep and get a good night's sleep
- Add some avocado to your turkey on rye or crackers as an evening snack - or whip up some late-night guacamole! Loaded with healthy fats and magnesium, avocado can improve the quality of your sleep.
Sleep is so important for our health, and if you want to ensure your productivity doesn't take a nose dive at work - or are trying to become a 'morning person', it's recommended to get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night. Having a good bedtime routine in place can help your body to unwind and prepare for sleep, but what and when you eat can also make a huge difference.
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