Food and Drink

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Diet and sleep are closely linked, and the circadian clock that guides your sleep-wake cycle (1) also regulates your appetite. What you consume on a given day can play a pivotal role in how well you sleep that night.

Certain foods and beverages contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients that promote feelings of relaxation and sleepiness before bedtime. If you struggle with falling or staying asleep, then incorporating these items into your diet may help mitigate your nightly issues. We discuss what to consume and what not to consume for better sleep.

Foods That May Make You Tired

Researchers have pinpointed several foods (2) that contain vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that are beneficial for sleep.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish (3) such as salmon, trout, and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain vitamin D. Both of these nutrients regulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that serves as a chemical precursor (4) to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. People who consume fatty fish as part of their regular diet may experience better sleep quality and wake up less throughout the night (5).

Tart Cherries

Recent studies have shown that regularly consuming tart cherry juice derived from the Montmorency cherry cultivar can significantly improve sleep duration (6) for people with insomnia. This variety of cherry contains tryptophan, along with other compounds that help increase your levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Other cherry varieties such as the Jerte Valley, Pico Limón, and Pico Colorado cultivars have also been shown to improve sleep for some people, though with mixed results that may be due to variances in melatonin concentration.

Kiwifruit

Kiwifruit is a nutritious addition to your diet. The fruit is a rich source of nutrients (7) such as vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, and potassium, as well as enzymes and antioxidants with various metabolic benefits. Some research suggests that eating kiwifruit before bedtime can increase sleep duration and reduce time spent awake in bed, though this topic has not been extensively studied and additional research is needed.

Nuts

Pistachios and walnuts (8) both contain high concentrations of melatonin. Consuming these nuts can boost your blood melatonin levels, with potential benefits for sleep.

Other foods that also contain relatively high levels of melatonin include grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and germinated soybean seeds. More research is needed to determine how these foods impact sleep.

Beverages That Affect Your Sleep

While certain beverages may have benefits for sleep, drinks containing caffeine or alcohol may be disruptive to sleep quality.

Milk

The first scientific studies regarding specific foods that improve sleep focused on Horlicks, a brand of malted milk drink. These studies found that people who consumed a glass of warm milk with Horlicks powder 30 minutes before bedtime slept more soundly, and older adults in these studies also slept longer.

Interestingly, researchers have also noted that milk obtained from cows at nighttime contains high concentrations of tryptophan and melatonin, which may increase its sedative effects compared to regular milk.

Though a diet rich in milk may contribute to better sleep quality, study results have been inconsistent and more research is needed to understand the optimal timing and type of milk for improving sleep (9).

Alcohol

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant (10) that can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep (11). For this reason, many people incorrectly think of alcoholic beverages as sleep aids.

Throughout the course of the night, alcohol can negatively affect your sleep cycles. A healthy sleep cycle consists of four stages (12). The first three stages involve gradually slower brain activity, a lower body temperature, and more limited physical movements. These are known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages. The fourth stage, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is characterized by a burst of brain activity. Once REM sleep concludes, the sleep cycle starts anew.

Alcohol essentially creates an imbalance between NREM and REM sleep that can throw your sleep cycle out of alignment, often resulting in lower sleep quality and disturbances later in the night.

Caffeine

You should also avoid beverages that contain caffeine (13) in the hours leading up to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness. Levels of caffeine in your blood reach their highest about 30 minutes after you consume a caffeinated beverage, but you may feel the effects for up to 7 hours. Along with coffee, certain foods such as chocolate also contain caffeine.

Drinking any beverage before bedtime increases your chances of needing to urinate during the night. Your body generally produces less urine (14) at night to provide up to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Consuming too much fluid at night can upset this balance. This is particularly true of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, but excessive intake of any fluid can lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom.

References

+ 14 Sources
  1. 1. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23456944/
  2. 2. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27633109/
  3. 3. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-omega-fatty-acids
  4. 4. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31057485/
  5. 5. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24812543/
  6. 6. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28901958/
  7. 7. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29470689/
  8. 8. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28387721/
  9. 9. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33339284/
  10. 10. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm
  11. 11. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23347102/
  12. 12. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
  13. 13. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25454674/
  14. 14. Accessed on September 16, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003141.htm

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