What you eat before bed can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Here are some of the best and worst foods and drinks to enjoy before hitting the sack.
Studies show that cherries are one of the few foods that are a natural source of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock and regulates sleep. Research indicates you should eat cherries — or drink some tart cherry juice — about an hour before hitting the hay to get a good night’s sleep.
All due respect to burger-lovers, but there’s really no good time of day to eat a greasy, fat-laden burger, at least from a health perspective. A burger before bedtime, however, will mess with your sleep big time, since the fat overload will stimulate production of stomach acid, which will gurgle up to your esophagus and cause heartburn while you’re trying to nod off.
A bowl of oatmeal or fortified wholegrain cereal is an excellent choice for a bedtime snack. Adding a bit of milk is even better, since the combination of carbohydrates and protein will boost serotonin levels, which in turn produces calming melatonin.
A note of caution: make sure you stick with cereal to which no sugar has been added — a bowl of sugary cereal will have the opposite effect, jacking up your metabolism and putting you on a train to Insomnia Town.
WORST: Dark Chocolate
While it’s true that dark chocolate has an extraordinary array of health benefits, helping you drift off to sleep is not one of them. That’s because it contains caffeine, as well as stimulants such as theobromine, which can make your heart race.
A few slices of lean turkey before bed will help you get a solid night’s sleep, since turkey is loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin production in the body. Not in the mood for turkey? Even better, have a turkey sandwich, as carbohydrate-rich foods help the brain more easily absorb tryptophan-rich foods. Other foods that contain tryptophan include pumpkin seeds and soy beans.
WORST: Spicy Food
As any late-night snacker who’s ever chowed down a dozen buffalo wings can attest, eating spicy food right before hitting the sheets is never a good idea. Not only can spicy food cause heartburn, an Australian study found that men who poured Tabasco sauce and mustard on their food had greater difficulty falling asleep and also experienced less deep sleep than those who ate blander fare.
Back in the day, a glass of warm milk was recommended to those who couldn’t get to sleep, and for good reason — milk, like turkey, is an excellent source of tryptophan.
While imbibing too much booze has been known to make one sleepy, the cold irony is that alcohol is also notorious for messing with your sleeping patterns. Passing out from drinking may put you right into a deep sleep, but you’re likely to wake up sooner and have a tough time getting back to bed. Not only will you be grumpy and hungover when you wake up, your body will be blasted from not getting a refreshing, restful sleep.
If you’re craving a late-night snack, try some corn chips with guacamole — avocados are loaded with magnesium, which promotes sleepiness. In fact, one study of older adults with insomnia demonstrated that magnesium had a positive effect on the quality of sleep. If avocados aren’t your thing, magnesium is also found in dark, leafy greens.
A small bowl or handful of chips might seem like a light snack, but they’re typically quite high in fat, which can keep you awake at night. Because your body will spend extra time digesting, you’ll probably spend a while tossing and turning before you can nod off.
BEST: Valerian Tea
Tea made from valerian — a tall, flowering grassland plant — may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and help you sleep better, according to some studies. Chamomile tea is thought to have a similar soothing effect.
Soda is the last thing you want to drink before heading to bed. Loaded with sugar (actually, high-fructose corn syrup, which is even worse) and caffeine, drinking soda at night is a great way to ensure you have a restless sleep that will leave you feeling tired and burned out in the morning.
Brent Furdyk is a freelance writer in Vancouver.