8 Foods You Had No Idea Could Put You To Sleep
If you skimp on sleep, your health—and your sanity—pay the price.
But even if you’re committed to logging the recommended 7 to 8 hours a night in bed, you still can find yourself tossing and turning when the lights go out.
And you’re not alone: Up to 1 in 3 adults say they occasionally experience insomnia, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
It’s no surprise that certain foods or drinks—think coffee, alcohol, and even too much sugar—can make your sleep woes worse. But you might not realise that others can actually help you snooze better.
Here are 8 foods and drinks that can help you achieve quality shuteye:
Walnuts contain melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
“Your body makes melatonin when it starts to get dark, but eating foods with melatonin could also help you feel more sedated,” says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., Men’s Health (US) sleep advisor and author of the forthcoming book The Sleep Solution.
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Try snacking on a handful an hour or two before bed, he says.
The pink fish is a top source of omega-3 fatty acids, which one Journal of Sleep Research study linked to deeper, more restful sleep.
While the study was done on children, experts say that the findings probably hold true for adults, too.
Experts don’t fully understand why, but getting enough omega-3s could boost the sleep-promoting effects of melatonin.
Aim to get 85 to 160 grams of salmon at least three times a week.
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3. White Rice
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating 2 1/2 cups of white rice four hours before bed could help you fall asleep faster.
Of course, that’s a lot of rice. But even eating a small amount of carbs could be helpful.
In part, that could be because your brain uses the carbs to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which promotes feelings of calm and relaxation, Dr. Winter says.
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Even though whole grains—like brown rice—are a healthier choice overall, it’s fine to switch to white rice every once in a while if you’ve been having trouble sleeping. Just go back to your usual fare once you start snoozing better, says Dr. Winter.
They’re one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which emerging research suggests could have an impact on your sleep.
One recent study, published in Sleep, found that men who were deficient in vitamin D had more sleep disruptions and got less sleep overall compared to those who got enough of the vitamin.
The reasons why aren’t completely clear, but it could be that vitamin D targets neurons in parts of the brain that play a role in sleep.
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5. Warm Milk
Try sipping a cup before bed.
Milk contains calcium as well as the amino acid tryptophan, two things your brain needs in order to produce melatonin, Dr. Winter says.
Plus, most milk is also fortified with vitamin D—so you’ll get that added bonus, too.
Related: Whole Milk or Fat Free: Which One Should You Be Drinking?
Warm it up, and its sleep-inducing effects might be even more potent.
“Consuming a warm beverage raises your body temperature,” says Dr. Winter. “So your body has to work to cool back down, and that cool-down can trigger sleepiness.”
A quarter-cup serving of cashews delivers almost 20 percent of your daily magnesium, a mineral that plenty of people don’t get enough of. That could spell problems at bedtime, since magnesium deficiency is linked to sleep disorders as well as restless leg syndrome, which often strikes at night and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
“Magnesium plays a role in proper muscle contraction,” Dr. Winter says.
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Fall short, and the nerves in your muscles can actually fire off too many signals at once, which can cause cramping and leg restlessness.
7. Sweet Potatoes
When it comes to sleep, the purple-fleshed vegetables are a double whammy.
A medium sweet potato packs 542 milligrams (mg) of potassium (around 10 percent of your daily recommended dose), which, like magnesium, promotes proper muscle contraction to keep nighttime leg cramps at bay, says Dr. Winter. Plus, they’re loaded with the carbs that your brain needs to make sleep-inducing serotonin.
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8. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile contains compounds that studies suggest can ease anxiety and stress, upping the odds that you can actually fall asleep rather than spend the entire night tossing and turning. Plus, like warm milk, a mug of hot chamomile tea before bed can promote feelings of sleepiness by causing your body temperature to rise and then drop.