Eating Your Way to a Better Night’s Sleep

This article was brought to you by our fabulous intern Breanne Zebrowski. She is currently a student at Cal State Poly Pomona studying Food and Nutrition.


We all know it can be hard to get the recommended 8 hours of shut eye each night.  As easy as it is to ask your doctor for medications to help you get a good night’s sleep, there are healthier, more natural, and even safer alternatives rather than turning to another pill.

It’s a sad reality that so many people use sleep aids at night only to wake up from their medicated slumber in need for their morning caffeine fix.  It’s estimated that about 60 million American adults struggle with insomnia or chronic sleeplessness.  This causes so many people to reach for another “quick fix” through a pill.

Many sleeping pills are infamous for causing drowsiness and eventually become addictive.  Zolpidem, one of the main ingredients in top-selling sleeping pills, is a sedative as well as a hypnotic and is known to actually cause an imbalance of our body’s sleeping hormones, causing more insomnia symptoms.  But how can we get a better night’s sleep without turning to another medication?  The answer may be easier and tastier than what you’d expect.

Time and time again we have to relearn that proper nutrition and the foods we eat affect us on so many more levels than we would like to think.  Although American’s like magic pills and drinks to solve our problems for us, food can, and always will, be the answer for long-lasting health.  In search for a tastier way to a good night’s sleep, we have found 5 foods that are sure to help catch some zzz’s.

  1. Walnuts – Yet again, these little nuts help us in our quest for better health. Walnuts’ natural dose of tryptophan (it’s not only in turkey) helps put us to sleep faster while also regulating the hormones that control our “body clock,” being a great option for those who continue to count sheep.
  2. Cheese – This sharp, savory favorite can be served with crackers before bed to enhance sleep. The calcium in dairy products regulate muscle movement as well as trigger the production of sleep-triggering melatonin.
  3. Lettuce – This leafy green was a surprising candidate but earned its way onto the list with its sedative properties. Similar to opiates, lettuce contains lactucarium which promotes a euphoric and relaxed feeling, making it easier to slip into slumber.
  4. Tuna – This fish packs a punch of vitamin B6, promoting the production of melatonin and serotonin, which aid you in regulating your sleep cycle. Other foods that can do the same include halibut, salmon, pistachios and even garlic.  You can also get these benefits by taking supplemented forms of vitamin B6 as well as melatonin supplements
  5. Tart Cherries – Cousins of sweet cherries, an 8 ounce glass of tart cherry juice has been shown to help you fall asleep faster. In studies done by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester, cherries were shown to help the symptoms of insomnia patients when compared to those who didn’t enjoy cherries.  Like the fishy relatives who earned their spot as number four, cherries are also rich with sleep-enhancing melatonin.

In addition to these foods, many minerals are also important in aiding in sleep.  One of the best is magnesium, which is found abundantly in our bodies and serves several purposes.  Magnesium is vitally important to getting a better night’s sleep and plays and active role in our body’s regulation of muscle movement, digestion of foods, as well as blood glucose levels.  All of these things contribute to a restful night’s sleep.

However, magnesium’s sleeping secret is its role it plays in our nervous systems and the regulation of adrenaline.  Because magnesium plays a role in the activation and deactivation of our stress hormone, getting sufficient amount of this mineral can be a huge contributing factor in sleeping more soundly.  Foods rich in magnesium include dark, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, as well as whole grains.

Eating the right foods is important when trying to get a good night’s sleep, but what foods should we avoid?  Here are a few things to hide in the back of the cupboard before bed.

  1. Fatty Foods – Although we would all love a midnight milkshake run, doing such can mean less sleep for you later. Foods that are high in fat take a long time to digest and activate a long digestive process.  Doing so late at night can mean being too alert to sleep.
  2. Alcohol – It may seem that using a depressant drug such as alcohol would give you a better night’s sleep, but evidence proves otherwise. Alcohol may put you to sleep faster, but using too much can harm your ability to achieve REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, where your body makes the most repairs and restorations. Plus, as your body metabolizes the alcohol, it causes you to wake from your slumber, usually in the middle of the night.
  3. Spicy foods – It’s easy to see the connection between restless nights and spicy foods in the way they react when simply tasting them. Spicy foods tend to raise our body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.
  4. Dark Chocolate – Similar to coffee beans, cocoa beans also contain caffeine. Although it contains less caffeine than its bitter, brewed cousin, dark chocolate can keep you up later than anticipated.  If you find yourself with a late-night chocolate craving, choosing a lower cocoa percentage may be better to avoid the larger dose of caffeine.

Through the power of food, we can avoid another pill and get a great night’s sleep naturally with a few simple things added or taken away from our daily diets.

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