When we think about sleeping well, we think about making sure we are comfortable, that we don’t consume too much caffeine and that it’s dark, among other things. What we very rarely pay attention to is what we eat, bedtime snacks and how that affects how we sleep.
A tiny bit of background science
Foods that cause sleepiness contain an amino acid called Tryptophan. Your body doesn’t produce Tryptophan, so you need to get it from your diet. Your brain converts the tryptophan into serotonin which is also helped along by vitamin B6. Serotonin regulates several bodily functions but is sometimes known as the happy chemical as it contributes to wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin is then converted into melatonin by your brain which is the hormone that regulates your sleep. Calcium helps the brain to produce melatonin and keep you asleep during the night. The pineal gland in the brain secretes melatonin at night to get you off to sleep and keep you there.
Magnesium also helps in promoting good sleep as it is a natural relaxant and counteracts adrenalin.
So with all the science out of the way, here are five surprising bedtime snacks that help you sleep well because of the minerals and chemicals mentioned above. You may have to turn your thinking on its head as this list generally goes against what we have always been told not to eat before bed. Plus, five foods that we all consume in the evenings that don’t help you sleep at all.
You might want to rethink your dinner and evening snacks.
Five bedtime snacks to eat to sleep well
Cheddar or Swiss cheese on a slice of wholemeal toast or with crackers
Cheese is high in Calcium and Tryptophan, and the carbohydrate of the toast or crackers contain Tryptophan too to help you drift into a restorative sleep.
Banana on a slice wholemeal toast
Relax with the help of the magnesium in banana, as well as Tryptophan and Vitamin B6. Coupled with the Tryptophan of the toast you can’t go wrong. Or just eating the banana on its own is still a good bet for a decent night’s sleep.
Natural yogurt with cherries and flax seeds
This is a mega whammy before bed snack. Yogurt contains calcium, magnesium, and Tryptophan. Cherries and flax seeds are two foods that contain naturally occurring melatonin. Flax seeds also contain Vitamin B6, magnesium and Tryptophan. Jam-packed with sleep-inducing goodness.
A small bowl of porridge made with milk topped with chopped banana
Great for a winter evening or sitting outside on a summer’s night, thinking about a lovely bowl of porridge is enough to send you off to sleep. The Tryptophan in the oats, banana, and milk will have you drifting into a dreamy sleep in no time, helped along by the vitamin B6 in the banana and the relaxing effect of the magnesium. All topped off with naturally occurring melatonin in the oats.
Peanut butter on a slice of wholemeal toast
For when you need a sleep boost peanuts contain Tryptophan and melatonin. Add a little more Tryptophan from the bread and off you go to the land of Nod. (Unless you’re allergic to nuts then stay clear of this snack).
Eat one of these small snacks before bedtime if your last big meal was 4 hours or more before you go to bed. If you ate 2 or 3 hours before bedtime, a bedtime snack could stop you from sleeping as your digestion slows at night.
Five foods to avoid before bed if you want to sleep well
Three things you don’t want before bed are heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux. All made worse by lying down as the acid can travel up your throat. Avoid spicy foods before bed and avoid this nasty trio of sleep inhibitors.
When you go to bed, you want your body to focus on sleep, not digestion. Fatty foods take longer to digest disrupting your sleep as digestion ramps down when we go off to the land of Nod.
Although alcohol can make you tired and fall asleep quickly, it stops you from getting the deep restorative sleep you need, leaving you tired when you wake.
High in protein foods
Protein gives your gut a digestive workout as protein is harder to break down, making you toss and turn as your gut does it’s digesting.
Desserts can be rich, heavy and can contain chocolate. A cocktail of sleep inhibitors that send your digestion into overdrive and stimulate your brain with caffeine from the chocolate. All not good for sleeping.
Not having caffeine before bed goes without saying, so we didn’t say it or count it.
Some studies show that eating before bed leads to weight gain, however, this is thought to be down to bad eating habits around what you eat and how much before bedtime and not what your body does with any foods. Best put down the burger or the four slices of toast with banana. The NHS states that if you are generally healthy and take regular exercise, there is no reason why eating before bed will lead to weight gain.
But foods affect each of us differently. If you don’t get on with lactose, then it’s not a good idea to eat dairy products before bed if you want to sleep well. Same if you have reflux, eating before bed may stop you sleeping well. You know your body. But if you’re not so sure, all you can do is try eating each of these foods as before bed snacks for a while and see what happens. There is not a one size fits all when it comes to diet but try one at a time and see what works for you.
One clear thing is that we should be having breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast. My mum was on to something when she used to have leftover Burmese curry on toast for breakfast.
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Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash