Food plays an important part in sleep. This wasn’t always true to the extent it now is, because in the not so distant past, most people got a lot more exercise during the day and sleep came much more easily as a result.
I know this from my many years of long distance cycling, when a supper of ten pints of beer and a hot beef curry were no obstacle to sleep. But now, as I sink into dotage, I am a sad, desk-bound creature whose sleep patterns are easily disturbed by the wrong foods. Here are a few hints on the type of foods that can help damage our sleep and the foods that make you sleepy:
Cherries – Best of the Foods That Make You Sleepy
Cherries are one of the foods that contain melatonin – the natural sleep hormone on which we have an extensive set of articles. Here’s an introduction to melatonin if you need one. We know from studies that a portion of tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) can help you to fall asleep and enjoy better quality sleep.
Tart Cherries also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help with muscle pain after exercise. But please don’t take this as a license to eat a sugar-laden portion of cherry pie before you retire!
Cheesburgers – The Stay Awake Food
If you want to stay awake – have a cheeseburger; and if you really want to drive sleep away, add some bacon. The high fat and salt content will surely do the trick! In addition, the fat causes the production of stomach acid which will also succeed in keeping you awake if you are susceptible to heartburn. Good luck on your wide-awake night!
Milk for Gentle Sleep and Sweet Dreams
Milk contains the substance tryptophan which is necessary for the production of melatonin in the pineal gland in your head. Thus, tryptophan can help to increase melatonin levels and help you to sleep. From our childhood days, many of us will remember our parents or grandparents giving us a glass of warm milk to help us sleep; it seems that science has caught up with that practise and verified its value.
Wine Lovers Are Wide Awake People
I love wine, especially a good Merlot or Shiraz. But alcohol is not good for sleep! For individuals who drink before sleeping, alcohol initially acts as a sedative — marked by the delta frequency electroencephalogram (EEG) activity of Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) — but is later associated with sleep disruption.
“The bottom line here is that although alcohol sends you to sleep initially, that sleep is disrupted by other effects of alcohol on your brain. What happens is that the front of your brain becomes more active, causing disruption of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which in turn prevents you from enjoying a deep, refreshing deep sleep that your body needs. And of course, alcohol can cause snoring!”
– Science Daily
Jasmine Rice- A Gentle Carb with Tryptophan
Jasmine rice ranks high on the glycemic index, meaning the body digests it slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream. Experiments show that this type of food can increase the amount of insulin in your body which in turn changes the relative amounts of tryptophan in your body relative to the amounts of other key amino acids. Your Body cannot produce tryptophan, so I surmise that the amounts of other key amino acids must be reduced by the extra insulin. But tryptophan helps to make serotonin, and serotonin in turn helps to make melatonin – the sleep hormone.
Yogurt – Another Tryptophan Source
Yogurt is another food that contains tryptophan – but do not use sugared yogurt as the sugar will really harm your sleep cycle. Sugar is a fast-energy substance that your body needs to burn during the day. At night, your body needs to burn energy from your fat store. Having too much sugar in your blood interrupts this mechanism:
“As the amount of sleep decreases, blood sugar increases, escalating the issue. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes. Higher blood sugar means less long-lasting fat metabolism in the night and even less sleep. See the cycle?”
Coffee – Another Wide Awake Food
Okay, coffee is not a food, although I did once hear Frank Zappa saying that cigarettes were his food! As we all know, coffee is a stimulant that acts on your nervous system, so drinking the stuff too late at night will keep you awake – it’s that simple, although everyone’s tolerance level differs. So how much coffee should you drink during the day? Three medium sized cups of coffee during the day day is generally thought to be a moderate and harmless intake. Six or more of these cups is generally considered excessive and sometimes indicates caffeine addiction. So enjoy your coffee during the day, but have the last one no later 6 or 7pm.
Fortified Cereal, Serotonin and Tryptophan
Carbohydrates (slow glycemic index) will generally not have a bad effect on your sleep patterns – but don’t overdo it in the evening! With a bit of milk, you have a very gentle evening snack that won’t keep you awake. The reasons for this are that carbohydrates, apart from releasing sugars into the blood very slowly, also encourage serotonin production whilst milk contains tryptophan. There are clear patterns emerging in our sleep-friendly foods!
Dark Chocolate and Caffeine
Dark chocolate is high in caffeine – and as we said above, that’s a sleep killer. A small portion of less than two grams can contain as much caffeine as three cups of decaffeinated coffee! Dark coffee also contains another stimulant called theobromine, which increases the heart rate and help to keep you awake. So even though it’s delicious – stay away from dark chocolate before you sleep!
Bananas – Muscle Relaxants and Slow Burning Carbohydrates
Bananas are another sleep-friendly food which contain substantial amounts of carbohydrate, but they also contain two elements which act as muscle relaxants – magnesium and potassium. These minerals can prevent muscle cramps when you are depleted from heavy exercise, but do not actively work towards alleviating insomnia. Basically then, bananas are a mineral rich carbohydrate source, having a low glycemic index and which won’t harm your sleep.
Energy Drinks – The Zombie Effect
Energy drinks are overloaded with caffeine – even more than coffee. An 8 ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine, rising to around 165 milligrams for a Starbucks coffee – but hey – that’s good if you need to be up and awake! No one sells coffee as a sedative, right? But there is a safe limit for caffeine, which is about 400 milligrams per day for adults, 200 milligrams for pregnant women and 45- 85 milligrams per day for children.
Energy drinks contain up to 242 milligrams per drink. And if you read the label for the amount of caffeine, then add 20% because those labels are often wrong. Here’s a good source on caffeine in energy drinks
Sweet Potato – Slow Burning Carbs Again
Sweet potatoes are gentle on your sleep system because of their carbohydrate content, but they also have the muscle relaxant, potassium. Regular potatoes are also good! Of course, I also love sweet potatoes purely for their taste and they can make a great late night snack with a glass of milk or a little bit of cold turkey. Delicious and sleep-friendly.
Curry and Cold Beer – Never Mind The Sleep!
I love a good hot curry – Madras and Vindaloo in particular, but it is NOT one of the foods that make you sleep! Believe it or not, these dishes are especially good on a hot day, washed down by lashings of cold beer! But not before bed. The spices can cause trouble and keep you awake and of course the beer is also a problem. But what kind of gastronomic pervert eats curry without beer? There are times when sleep is a lot less appealing than the meal in front of you!
Valerian Tea – A Traditional Solution to Insomnia
The root of the valerian plant is a well known traditional drink used to help you to get to sleep faster, and to improve sleep quality. Valerian is also used in a variety of sleep aids containing melatonin – melatrol for example, on which we have a full breakdown of ingredients. We also have an article describing a range of natural herbal insomnia remedies on this site – click here.
Turkey – Sleepy Sleepy Bird
This one was a surprise to me, because I thought turkey would be in the same category as chicken – but it’s not – because turkey contains tryptophan, which we explained above boosts serotonin which in turn boosts melatonin production. Of course, eating turkey won’t cure your insomnia – it will just not make things worse.
Chicken Is Not Turkey
Protein of any type (and chicken is rich in protein, with no tryptophan to counteract it) will harm your capacity to sleep. When you sleep, digestion of food slows by about 50%, but protein is digested slowly at any time and so your body spends more effort on digestion than it does on setting your body up to sleep. Carbohydrates (a nice bowl of Jasmin Rice for instance) will dilute the protein but will not completely counteract it. So as far as sleep goes – chicken isn’t turkey!
Foods that make you dream
Dreaming is a critically important part of sleep. As we state above, some foods contain tryptophan, which is a precursor of melatonin. As a bonus to helping you sleep, Tryptophan is also especially good for helping you into a dream state, especially when combined with Vitamin B. Studies have shown that 250mg of a vitamin B supplement taken in the evening often causes an increase in dream content and lucidity. However, the maximum recommended dose of vitamin B is around 100mg. I will recommend a good vitamin B supplement on the dream section of this site.