Sleep quality and duration can affect a wide array of conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease
However, getting enough sleep can be tricky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of adults in the United States report not getting a healthy amount of sleep.
Many chemicals, amino acids, enzymes, nutrients, and hormones work together to promote good sleep and regulate the sleep cycle. These include:
- gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
- vitamin D
- B vitamins
Although lots of foods contain low levels of these sleep-promoting compounds, only some have high concentrations that could potentially affect a person’s sleep cycle.
Taking both traditional knowledge and scientific research into account, as well as nutritional profiles, here are the best foods and drinks for sleep:
Almonds contain high doses of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleeping and waking cycle.
A 1-ounce (oz) serving of whole almonds also contains 77 milligrams (mg) of magnesium and 76 mg of calcium, two minerals that may help promote muscle relaxation and sleep.
Almonds are also a healthful evening snack, as they are high in good fats and low in sugar and saturated fats.
Almonds are available to purchase in grocery stores, bulk-food stores, and online.
Warm milk is a common home remedy for sleeplessness. Milk contains four sleep-promoting compounds: tryptophan, calcium, vitamin D, and melatonin.
However, the childhood association that many people have between a warm cup of milk and bedtime may be more effective than tryptophan or melatonin in promoting sleep. Like a cup of tea, having a warm cup of milk before bed can be a relaxing nightly ritual.
Low-fat milk is also a great snack because it is nutritious and low in calories. Each cup of 1-percent low-fat milk contains approximately:
- 7.99 grams (g) of protein
- 300 mg of calcium
- 499 international units (IU) of vitamin A
- 101 IU of vitamin D
- 101 calories
The herb chamomile is a traditional remedy for insomnia.
Researchers think that a flavonoid compound called apigenin is responsible for chamomile’s sleep-inducing properties.
Apigenin seems to activate GABA A receptors, a process that helps stimulate sleep.
Although research has found only weak evidence that chamomile may improve sleep quality, having a warm cup of tea can be a soothing ritual to help a person mentally prepare for bed.
Chamomile tea is available in most grocery stores and online.
Walnuts contain a few compounds that promote and regulate sleep, including melatonin, serotonin, and magnesium. Each 100-g serving of walnuts also contains other nutrients that can help sleep, such as:
- 158 mg of magnesium
- 441 mg of potassium
- 98 micrograms (µg) of folate
- 98 mg of calcium
Walnuts are high in melatonin, but researchers have not yet proven a solid association between eating these nuts and improved sleep.
People can purchase walnuts at the grocery store, in bulk-food stores, or online.
Cherries are rich in four different sleep-regulating compounds: melatonin, tryptophan, potassium, and serotonin. Researchers speculate that antioxidants called polyphenols in tart cherries may also influence sleep regulation.
In a 2018 review on the health benefits of cherries, the authors found a positive correlation between improved sleep and cherry consumption.
The researchers also concluded that the anti-inflammatory properties of cherries might help reduce pain after strenuous exercise and improve cognitive function.
Tart cherries also make a good snack before bed because they are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Fatty fish may help improve sleep because they are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, two nutrients that help regulate serotonin. Serotonin is largely responsible for establishing a fixed sleeping and waking cycle.
Fatty fish are typically also high in a few other sleep-promoting nutrients. For example, a 3-oz fillet of wild Atlantic salmon contains:
- 416 mg of potassium
- 25 g of magnesium
- 170 mg of phosphorous
- 0.54 mg of zinc
- 2.7 µg of vitamin B-12
- 21 µg of folate
- 10 mg of calcium
In a 2014 study, participants who ate 300 g of Atlantic salmon three times a week for 6 months fell asleep more quickly and functioned better during the day than those who ate chicken, beef, or pork with the same nutritional value.
The researchers concluded that these benefits were primarily due to an increase in vitamin D levels, as well as possible improvements in heart-rate regulation due to the omega-3 content.
Barley grass powder is rich in several sleep-promoting compounds, including GABA, calcium, tryptophan, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
According to a 2018 review, barley grass powder may promote sleep and help prevent a range of other conditions.
People can mix barley grass powder into smoothies, scrambled eggs, salad dressings, and soups. It is available in some food stores and online.
Lettuce and lettuce seed oil may help treat insomnia and promote a good night’s sleep. Some people claim that lettuce has a mild sedative-hypnotic effect.
Researchers believe that most of lettuce’s sedative effects are due to the plant’s n-butanol fraction, specifically in a compound called lactucin.
In a 2013 study, mice that received n-butanol fraction preparations experienced an increase in sleep duration and a decrease in sleep latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep.
In a 2017 study, researchers concluded that lettuce not only increased sleep duration in mice but that it also protected cells against inflammation and damage resulting from stress during sleep disturbances.
Other natural remedies
Aside from foods, other traditional or alternative remedies that can improve sleep include:
- St. John’s wort
- passionflower tea
It is best to speak with a doctor before taking any new supplements to ensure that they will not interact with other medications or supplements or affect any existing medical conditions.
Some lifestyle and diet choices can also help improve sleep and a person’s sleep cycle. These include:
- avoiding foods that can cause heartburn, such as spicy or rich foods
- avoiding foods and drinks that contain caffeine close to bedtime
- choosing whole-grain foods in place of white bread, white pasta, and sugary foods
- avoiding skipping meals
- staying hydrated
- exercising regularly
- finishing eating more than 2–3 hours before bedtime
Many foods contain nutrients, chemicals, and other compounds that help control the body’s sleep cycle.
Preliminary studies show that several types of nut, fruit, and seafood may improve sleep. People have used other foods and drinks for decades to treat insomnia and improve sleep.
Most potentially sleep-promoting foods are nutritious and unlikely to cause harm, so they should be safe for anyone without allergies to enjoy in moderation.
To get the potential benefits of some sleep-promoting foods, try eating them a few hours before bed to reduce the risk of indigestion and acid reflux.
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