5 Foods That Help You Sleep (And What To Avoid)



Have you ever had one of those nights when you just can’t fall asleep? Or worse, you fall asleep as usual but then wake up in the early hours wide awake. Well, it could be a result of what you ate that day.

What most of us don’t realize is that the quality of your sleep is determined from the moment you wake up, and your diet plays a key role. While there are some foods that will promote deeper sleep, there are others that can wreak havoc. To help ensure you sleep soundly, we spoke to sleep expert Julie Mallon who explained the impact your diet has on your sleep, and, most importantly, the foods to eat for a good night’s sleep and what you should avoid.

The Power of Sleep

If there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s the power of a good night’s sleep. Of course, you’re probably aware of the better-known side effects of poor sleep, AKA tiredness, a lack of mental clarity, and the occasional moodiness – #guilty. However, so many other health concerns have been tied to poor sleep. Julie says, “A severely compromised immune system, poor skin, obesity, and even more serious examples like heart disease or cancer. It’s a well-known fact within the sleep community that if you have six hours sleep consecutively for one week, the likelihood of you developing cancer doubles.” The bottom line is: make sleep a priority.

1. Nuts: Almond and Walnuts

Julie told us that nuts like walnuts and almonds are great for sleep. She explained, “Almonds, in particular, are very impactful as they contain high levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and magnesium. The magnesium relaxes the central nervous system, which is why it’s often referred to as the sleep mineral.”

“I recently saw a study conducted on rats, which found that the group of rats who had been fed almond extract slept longer and more deeply than those who weren’t.”

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2. Cherries

“Cherries are one of the best natural sources of melatonin you can find, so if you’re struggling to sleep, snack on some cherries after your evening meal,” says Julie. “If you can’t access fresh cherries, opt for an organic tart cherry juice as this will also boost your melatonin levels.” Julie explains why boosting melatonin is so important; “Melatonin is fundamental for sleep as it triggers the wake-sleep cycles in your brain, preparing the body for sleep. It’s also one of the most powerful antioxidants.”

3. Fatty Fish

“Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are also great to incorporate into your evening meal for a good night’s sleep,” says Julie. “The reason being is they contain the amino acid tryptophan, which gets converted to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that creates melatonin.”

Julie told us, “A report published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined sleep habits and sleep quality among healthy adults in the US and confirmed that fish consumption seemed to have a positive impact on sleep in general and also on daily functioning.’”

4. Dark Leafy Greens

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To complement your fatty fish, work some dark leafy greens into your diet. Julie explains that “Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli contain three vital minerals for healthy sleep: potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Calcium helps produce melatonin, the hormone that maintains your sleep-wake rhythm.”

5. Bananas

While many people love to have a banana for breakfast, Julie says they’re a great late-night snack as they are proven to enhance the quality of your sleep. She explains, “Bananas are a rich source of potassium, which helps relax the central nervous system. They also contain vitamin B6, an essential vitamin for sleep.” So if you’re ever hungry before bed, slice up a banana with natural yogurt (another sleep-promoter) instead of chocolate. However, she also adds “Be wary, as some people may find bananas hard to digest.”

What Foods to Avoid

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Along with the good comes the bad. Here are the foods you should avoid, according to Julie…

Caffeine: “What makes caffeine so detrimental to sleep is its long shelf life: it can remain in your system for six hours. This is why I recommend having your last caffeinated drink at 2 pm. You also need to be mindful that other foods that you may not expect contain caffeine. Ice cream and frozen yogurt, for example, although deemed a late-night treat, both actually contain caffeine and therefore should be avoided.”

Cured meats: “You should avoid cured meats before you sleep as they contain an amino acid called tyramine, which makes the brain more alert, thereby prohibiting sleep.”

Nightshade vegetables: “Again, nightshade vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes, and beetroot, contain the amino acid tyramine. This will stimulate the brain and make it harder for you to fall asleep. My daughter and I actually woke one morning to discover we had both slept badly before realizing we had cured beetroot for dinner.”

For more diet advice, check out the foods that keep your vagina healthy.