Certain foods can lead to a better night's sleep by helping regulate sleep-inducing hormones. Dr. Ari Laliotis, a board-certified internal medicine and sleep medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, explains how these four snacks may help you fall asleep — and stay asleep.
Cherries naturally contain melatonin, a hormone typically produced in the brain but is also found in certain foods. Melatonin causes you to feel drowsy and lets you know when your body is ready to go to bed. Melatonin production is based on light — your brain ramps up production when the sun starts to set and then levels return to normal in the morning.
Snacking on cherries during the evening can give you a natural boost in melatonin to help you sleep longer and more soundly. Be sure to choose tart cherries, which are typically bright red. Also consider drinking a small glass of tart cherry juice in winter months, when fresh cherries may be hard to find.
Almonds, walnuts and pistachios contain sleep-promoting tryptophan and magnesium. Tryptophan is an amino acid that creates serotonin, said to be a natural relaxant that causes sleepiness.
Magnesium is necessary for a number of biological tasks, including nerve and muscle function. Some people have found that magnesium helps them sleep more soundly, but more studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness.
In addition to these two nutrients, walnuts also contain an extra boost of melatonin.
3. Whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta
Whole-grain foods are a great source of complex carbohydrates. These carbs help prevent spikes in blood sugar by breaking down slowly in the body. They also allow your body to process tryptophan faster, making you feel drowsy. The combination of complex carbohydrates and tryptophan is the culprit of most post-Thanksgiving meal naps. Stay away from simple carbs, which break down into sugar quickly and can actually give you an energy surge.
As it turns out, there is some truth to the old adage that drinking warm milk will help you fall asleep. Dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt provide calcium, a mineral that helps your body turn tryptophan into melatonin. Combine cheese with whole-grain crackers for a pre-bedtime snack. Other foods high in calcium include dark leafy greens, broccoli and sardines.
While these four snacks may help you get a restful night's sleep, it's important to remember that a balanced diet will usually provide all the nutrients your body needs to operate at its best. Use discretion when you snack — eating too much before bedtime can keep you awake.
"It's important to practice good sleep hygiene by setting a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and keeping screens (including smartphones) out of the bedroom," says Dr. Laliotis.
Talk with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping for two or more consecutive weeks.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Ari Laliotis about sleep wellness for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.