Sleep is one of the best things we can do for our body. Yet, it’s often pushed aside during busy or particularly stressful times. In fact, only 10 percent of Americans rank sleep as a top health priority (1). When we finally lay down at night, it’s hard to fall asleep. Our mind races, we toss and turn, and end up even more tired the next day. While proper sleep is a key component to ending insomnia, start with the many foods that improve sleep!
Top Foods that Improve Sleep
Public Service Announcement: you can eat pumpkin foods all year long. Forget about the pumpkin spice lattes though, we’re all about those pumpkin seeds! These nutrient powerhouses hold a whopping 184 milligrams (mg) of magnesium in just 1/4 cup serving. That’s over half of your daily requirements!
Thanks to their lofty magnesium content, pumpkin seeds are front runners for one of the best foods that help you sleep better. Magnesium is an electrolyte and essential mineral with over 300 jobs in the body. Unfortunately, only 68 percent of Americans eat enough magnesium each day (2). Women need about 310 mg of daily magnesium, while men require a little more – around 400 mg per day (3).
Why is magnesium so important for sleep?
Some studies show that lower intakes of magnesium in our diet is connected increased levels of depression and anxiety (2). These two conditions, especially anxiety, can have a crippling effect on our sleep quality. Magnesium may help reduce anxiety and promote sleep because it increases GABA, an important neurotransmitter in our brain (4). GABA helps to relax our body and mind, a key component to achieving restful sleep.
Try boosting your daily magnesium intake by adding pumpkin seeds to your morning oatmeal, eating a handful for a nutrient-dense snack, or throwing some onto your salad at lunch!
Eggs are a rich source of an amino acid called tryptophan, which is why they are one of the best foods that help you sleep. Tryptophan helps us make more of our “feel good” hormone called serotonin (5). This hormone is what makes us feel calm and happy – two good feelings to have before bedtime!
Additionally, this amino acid also helps to produce melatonin. If you have ever had trouble sleeping, you’ve probably heard of melatonin before! Melatonin is another hormone, but is directly involved in balancing our circadian rhythm (aka our internal “sleep clock”). We need melatonin to increase in the evening, and decrease in the morning. Studies show that melatonin may help with sleep disorders such as jet lag and problems related to shift work (6,7). While many of the studies use supplemental melatonin, we love the idea of naturally increasing our production of melatonin by eating tryptophan-rich foods, like eggs!
Eggs are a great source of protein and fat for breakfast – but that’s not the only time you can eat them! Grab a hard-boiled egg for a satisfying mid-day snack, or mash up a hard-boiled egg with a small avocado for a healthier egg-salad variety.
Tart Cherry Juice
While we’re on the topic of melatonin, we should probably mention tart cherry juice! Tart cherries are known to naturally increase the level of melatonin in our body. One small study investigated the effect of tart cherry juice on sleep quality. Researchers found that when compared to the placebo group, participants who drank tart cherry juice for seven days had higher levels of melatonin in their urine, as well as increases in total sleep time and sleep efficiency (8). Another study backed these results and found that tart cherry juice significantly reduced the severity of insomnia (9).
A lot of juices on the market contain added sugar, so if you’re looking to try tart cherry juice as one of the foods that help you sleep, look for one without unnecessary additives and sugar.
Salmon is a pretty powerful food thanks to its high amounts of two fatty acids called EPA and DHA. Consumption of this oily fish is connected to better sleep quality (10,11). Scientists haven’t pinpointed the exact reason for this connection, but suspect that DHA also increases melatonin levels (12). Additionally, some salmon varieties contain upwards of 600 IU of vitamin D, another critical vitamin needed to help stop insomnia.
Considering these benefits, it makes sense why salmon is high on our list as one of the foods that help you sleep better!
When choosing your salmon at the store, we encourage you to choose the wild-caught variety over farmed fish (although usually any salmon is better than none 😀). Check out our blog on labeling requirements for seafood for more information, too.
Most people know that chamomile tea is a soothing, caffeine free beverage. But, most people don’t know why this particular tea is connected to better sleep. It tops most lists for foods that improve sleep!
Dried chamomile flowers have been used for hundreds of years as a calming and relaxing herbal remedy. Researchers think that the calming benefits of chamomile come from its flavonoid compounds (13). Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that have lots of benefit for the body. These flavonoids may help regulate GABA (our calming neurotransmitter) and serotonin (our happy hormone). Chamomile may also help reduce mild to moderate anxiety, which helps improve sleep quality as well!
So cozy up in that big, comfy chair and sip on a mug of hot chamomile tea before bedtime to help stop insomnia!
We love ashwagandha, because it provides so many benefits for our health! As an adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha may come in handy as one of the top foods to help you sleep.
Insomnia is associated with an increase in cortisol levels, one of our main stress hormones (14). Elevated cortisol at nighttime causes the “wired but tired” feeling you may get when laying in bed some nights. Fortunately, ashwagandha can pretty effectively lower cortisol levels that are too high (15). It may also help reduce anxiety and stress overall, which of course leads to a better night’s sleep.
Although ashwagandha is often found in supplement form, you can use the powdered version as well. Because of its strong odor, some people prefer to mix powdered ashwagandha into smoothies, a little honey, or warm milk before bedtime.
Start getting the sleep your body needs
One of the best ways to treat our body well is to give it the sleep it needs, which is about 7-9 hours per night for most people. Besides our energy levels, sleep benefits our metabolism, mood, hormones, and even our food cravings! In addition to these foods that help you sleep, ensure you are following other healthy sleep guidelines like having a cool bedroom temperature, a regular bedtime routine, avoiding afternoon caffeine, and limiting electronics at night.
Let us know how our foods that improve sleep tips work for you in the comments!