Can’t sleep? It may be something you didn’t eat.
The brain depends on a complex array of nutrients to ensure peaceful, uninterrupted slumber. If you’re battling nighttime wakefulness, eat these foods 1 to 4 hours before bed to sleep more soundly.
Spinach is high in magnesium, which naturally relaxes the nerves and muscles, to calm the body and encourage sleep. Magnesium can also help prevent leg cramps, a common cause of nighttime waking. Additionally, spinach is a good source of calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone; research suggests being calcium deficient may make it difficult to fall asleep. Eat this: Purée a handful of spinach with milk or almond milk and a frozen banana for a soothing bedtime smoothie; sauté spinach with cooked chickpeas, diced sweet potatoes and toasted almonds; toss chopped spinach with hot pasta and olive oil and top with cheese.
Nutritional yeast is very rich in B vitamins – just 2 tablespoons contains more than the full daily value (DV) for vitamin B12 and 480% of the DV for vitamin B6. Vitamin B12 is crucial for the nervous system, and studies show that B12 intake is significantly correlated with duration of sleep. Vitamin B6 is necessary for the production of serotonin, and research suggests deficiencies can promote psychological distress and ensuing sleep disturbances. Eat this: Toss hot popcorn with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor; stir nutritional yeast into hummus; add to a spinach and cheese omelette for a sleep-inducing dinner.
Hummus. Chickpeas are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a precursor to serotonin, which plays a crucial role in the modulation of sleep. Food sources of tryptophan may be even more effective than supplements: In one study, dietary tryptophan significantly reduced insomnia, especially when combined with complex carbohydrates. Because chickpeas contain both tryptophan and carbs, they’re a great food for promoting sleep. They’re also high in fiber: Studies show a low-fiber diet is associated with light, less-restorative sleep and more nighttime wakings. Eat this: Spread hummus on flatbread and top with chopped Kalamata olives; mix with cooked chicken and serve in lettuce cups; mix with vegetable broth, add vegetables and heat for an easy, creamy soup.
Almond butter. Almonds and other nuts are very high in magnesium – ¼ cup contains 24% of the DV – and rich in sleep-promoting tryptophan. They’re also high in potassium, which can significantly increase sleep efficiency and decrease awakenings after falling asleep, and B vitamins, which promote restful sleep. Eat this: Slice an apple crosswise into rounds then spread with almond butter for a simple bedtime snack; toss hot soba noodles, shredded carrots and minced scallions with almond butter; cook sweet potatoes in coconut milk until tender then add almond butter, purée until smooth and season with curry powder.
Cherries. Tart cherries are high in melatonin, critical in regulating the sleep- wake cycle. In one small double-blind, randomized study, volunteers who drank tart cherry juice for 7 days had significantly elevated melatonin levels and significant increases in total sleep time and sleep efficiency compared to a placebo. Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that tart cherry juice was as effective as the sleep herb valerian. Sweet cherries are also high in melatonin and may have many of the same sleep-promoting effects. Eat this: Purée frozen cherries with whole milk and raw honey for a soothing bedtime smoothie; simmer tart cherries in balsamic vinegar and honey until tender then serve with vanilla yogurt; combine chopped cherries with minced red onion, jalapeño peppers, cilantro and lime juice for a savory salsa.
Kiwi are rich in sleep-promoting phytochemicals. In a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volunteers who ate two kiwi fruits an hour before bed for four weeks significantly decreased the amount of time it took to fall asleep and increased total sleep duration and sleep efficiency. Kiwi are high in serotonin (as are plantains, pineapple, banana, plums, walnuts and tomatoes), but because serotonin can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, it’s likely that the fruit’s high antioxidant content is responsible for its sleep-promoting activities: Studies show that poor sleep is linked with lower levels of antioxidants. Eat this: Layer kiwi slices in a parfait glass with vanilla yogurt and granola; purée peeled kiwi with chamomile tea for a sleep-promoting bedtime beverage.
Organic corn is high in carbs, which can promote sleep when eaten the right way. Carbs stimulate insulin, which indirectly makes tryptophan more available; higher-glycemic carbs are more effective than low-glycemic carbs. But sugary carbs like cookies and candy can upset blood sugar and interrupt sleep later in the night. Corn is a good choice because it has a moderate glycemic index – a measure of how quickly or slowly a food causes increases in blood glucose levels. Eat this: Stuff a warm corn tortilla with leftover chicken salad for an easy nighttime snack; sauté corn, chopped spinach, diced red peppers and cubes of chicken then top with cotija cheese.