Having trouble sleeping is a common problem in the U.S., and it’s getting worse as we speak. In fact, insomnia – a sleep disorder that is characterized by a difficulty falling asleep – affects approximately 1 in 8 people (WrongDiagnosis.com) in the United States. While there are many different reasons why you’re having trouble falling asleep – such as stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, untreated sleep apnea, etc. – there are various foods that you can try as sort of a natural sleep aid. There are also foods you should avoid before bed, because they will help you stay awake. Many of these foods are obvious, such as coffee, soda, or other caffeine-packed drinks, but some aren’t so obvious. Warm milk, for example, actually makes it more difficult to fall asleep due to it’s protein/fat content – so what you learned growing up was all wrong!
In general, foods containing carbohydrates will help you sleep better. It’s kind of surprising since foods that are high in carbs break down and form sugar in your body which you would think would keep you more awake, but that’s not the case. Carbohydrates break down in your body quickly and help to promote the release of tryptophan and serotonin, which are two chemical that can help promote better sleep. It’s a delicate balance though. Too much of these foods taken before bedtime could begin to pack on the pounds, because as we all know, carbohydrates should be consumed in moderation. So keep that in mind when you pop open a big bag of candy a few hours before bedtime and demolish the whole bag thinking that you’re going to get a great nights sleep – that’s not going to help your sleep! Moderation is the key.
Here are some foods and drinks that will help you get a good nights sleep if taken a few hours before bedtime…
The key to this “secret sleep aid” is to not add any kind of fat to the popcorn – so no butter! Fat slows down digestion, which leads to a bad nights sleep. The popcorn helps boost your serotonin levels ever so slightly – enough to relax your body and get it ready for a good nights sleep.
(Photo: Flickr – Micky)
These sweet treats break down fast in your body causing the release of your body’s sleeping chemicals as described above.
Bananas are rich in melatonin, which is the chemical released by your body to help you sleep better. You can also whip up some of your favorite instant oatmeal with sliced bananas in it for a great-tasting warm snack a few hours before bedtime.
A plain bagel or french bread eaten a few hours before bedtime can help the release of your body’s sleeping chemicals. Bread is relatively high on the glycemic index – an index that measures the affect of food on your blood sugar levels – so limit the serving size to one, or you may start to notice a bit of weight gain due to the increase in carb consumption.
Yogurt with Mixed Nuts
The idea behind this natural sleep is that the combination of one cup of plain yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of mixed nuts helps to greatly reduce your stress levels which in turn helps you to sleep better at night. This food should be eaten at least 3-5 hours before bedtime, or else it could have the opposite effect of actually keeping you awake at night.
Pretzels – along with other similar snacks like saltines, corn chips or rice cakes – can help you get to sleep easier much in the same way that bread helps you to fall asleep easier. Carbohydrates help to relieve stress and aid in the release of your body’s sleep chemicals.
In a way, turkey and sesame seeds are a lot alike. They both contain high levels of tryptophan, which is the chemical responsible for your after-Thanksgiving sleep coma. However, sesame seeds are more effective as a sleep aid than turkey, because the fat and protein in turkey acts as sort of a sleep deterrent by slowing down your digestive system. Sesame seeds, on the other hand, don’t contain the fat and protein content of turkey, so they are more effective when used as a natural sleep aid.
Eaten at least a couple of hours before bedtime, breakfast cereals – such as Golden Grahams or Grape Nuts – can help in the release of serotonin and other natural chemicals that will help you fall asleep fast. Just remember not to eat any sugar-filled cereal right before bedtime, because it will have the opposite effect – Usually two hours or more before bedtime is ideal.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Zoe)
Wine is widely known for its antioxidant benefits, but it is also a great way to unwind at the end of the day and get your body ready for a good nights sleep. The key is to only drink one glass of wine, because drinking more than that will have an adverse affect on your sleep. Wine helps to relax your blood vessels, relieve stress and slow down your heart rate – all of which helps to increase your quality of sleep.
(Photo: Flickr – paulaloe)
Good ‘ole french fries can also be a good food to promote sleep. Again, I must reinforce that they be eaten in moderation, because too many fries can lead to weight gain and trouble sleeping. It’s the potato that really is the natural sleep aid here, so the same holds true for mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or other potato products. Just make sure to limit the amount of toppings or ingredients in your potato snack, because that may have an adverse affect on your quality of sleep.
(Photo: Flickr – Steve Beger Photography (Beger.com Productions))
Glass of Cherry Juice
Unsweetened cherry juice has much of the same effect as a glass of wine has on your body. A four-ounce glass of cherry juice will help your body relax by reducing the “pleasure chemical” serotonin in your body. Drink a glass of unsweetened cherry juice about an hour before bed, and it will help you fall asleep faster and in many cases improve your quality of sleep as well.
(Photo: Flickr – bensonkua)
For much of the same reasons bread can help you fall asleep faster, rice contains the right amount of carbohydrates that your body needs to help reduce stress levels and release your body’s sleep chemicals. Instant rice will work fine when used as a sleep aid. Eat it at least a couple of hours before you go to bed for the best results.
Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers have several known health benefits, including the fact that they contain more Vitamin C than any other fruit or vegetable. Vitamin C helps to reduce the secretion of cortisol in the human body. Cortisol is a chemical that is released when you’re stressed, and contain lead to weight gain and trouble falling asleep. Red bell peppers help to reverse the negative effects of cortisol, which helps to improve sleep quality when eaten at dinner or a couple of hours before bedtime.
Graham crackers or similar treats, such as vanilla wafers, are high on the glycemic index, so they help to increase the release of serotonin in our bodies which helps to reduce stress. Stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia. A few graham crackers before you go to bed can help reduce the stress levels of your body enough to help you fall asleep fast.
(Photo: Flickr – oskay)
Honey not only tastes great drizzled on some of your favorite treats, but it can also be used as a natural sleep aid if consumed at least a couple of hours before you go to bed. Small doses of honey help you get to sleep faster by basically telling your brain to turn off production of orexin – a a neurotransmitter that is linked to alertness.
(Photo: Flickr – biskuit)
Believe it or not, watermelon can be used as a natural sleep aid when consumed 2-4 hours before bedtime. Since it is high on the glycemic index, it is processed quickly in our bodies and aids in serotonin production. Since it lowers our overall stress levels, watermelon is effective at helping us get to sleep faster.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Steve Evans)
These are just 16 of the many foods and drinks out there that can be used as natural sleep aids. If you have a special treat that helps you sleep like a baby at night, please share it in the comments section below.
(Sources: RD.com and Health.Yahoo.com)