Frida Harju, the in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum, shares the best ten foods and drinks to help you sleep.
1. Warm Milk
A glass of warm milk is one of the best natural remedies for sleep deprivation. Dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan which produces the sleep-inducing neurotransmitters, serotonin and melatonin. These neurotransmitters relax your brain by slowing down nerve transmissions. The calcium found in milk also helps the brain convert tryptophan into melatonin.
2. Camomile Tea
Camomile tea has been used as a solution for insomnia for centuries because it contains the flavonoid, apigenin which slows down the brain by binding to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. The glycine found in camomile tea also helps cure anxiety by relaxing the nerves and muscles. It is best to drink 3-4 cups of camomile tea if you are trying to get to sleep or recovering from jet lag. However the University of Maryland Medical Center advises pregnant women not to drink this tea as it can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Bananas contain the muscle relaxants magnesium and potassium and, like dairy products, they contain tryptophan which converts into serotonin and transmits the feeling of tiredness to the brain. Why not blend a banana with milk an hour or two before you go to sleep for a delicious bedtime smoothie?
In recent years, several studies have proven that tart cherries considerably increase the levels of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter, melatonin, in the body. In many other countries melatonin tablets are available over the counter to help combat jet lag and insomnia. In the UK these tablets are harder to come by so the news that cherries are a natural and healthy alternative to sleep supplements is great. Try eating a cup of cherries before bed or alternatively try drinking a glass of cherry juice. Researchers at Northumbria University found that Montmorency cherry juice, a sour variety of cherry, can help you sleep nearly 40 minutes longer than usual.
In addition to their high levels of potassium and magnesium, grapes are rich in melatonin so they provide similar health benefits to cherries. Much to the disappointment of those who enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, most of the melatonin is lost in the wine production process and alcohol can disrupt sleep so it is always best to eat a cup of raw grapes before bed.
Complex carbohydrates like quinoa release insulin in the body which is needed to carry tryptophan to the brain. This does not give you an excuse to eat unhealthy carbohydrates such as pizza, muffins and cookies every evening under the guise of a sleep remedy. It is best to stick to healthier carbs like quinoa, brown rice or whole grains before bed, especially if you are planning on regularly incorporating these foods into your evening meals. Quinoa is especially beneficial for sleep because it will help relax the muscles due to its high magnesium and protein content.
It may seem strange to eat honey, a food packed with glucose, before bed but studies have shown that the consumption of honey helps the liver to store glycogen. When the liver’s supply of glycogen runs out, the body starts to convert protein to muscle by producing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin. If this occurs in the night, sleep can be disturbed so try adding honey to a cup of boiling water for a soothing bedtime drink.
Almonds are rich in magnesium and tryptophan, helping to promote muscle relaxation and sleep. They also supply the body with protein, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels whilst sleeping. Try replacing an unhealthy sugary dessert with yoghurt, honey and almonds.
Green leafy vegetables such as the so-called ‘superfood’ kale will provide you with a healthy dose of calcium, helping to turn the amino acid in your brain into melatonin. When trying to get a good night’s sleep, leafy greens are often a better alternative to dairy products because they are low in fat and are packed with magnesium and vitamin K. In addition, they can be easily incorporated into your evening meal.
Flaxseeds, like many of the other foods on this list, increase the levels of serotonin in the body due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and tryptophan. The omega-3 fatty acids have been known to relieve stress related symptoms that prevent sleep. The magnesium in the flaxseeds will help relax the muscles and has been reported to prevent night terrors.
What to avoid:
Try to avoid eating foods with a high fat content such as fast food because it can cause heartburn as fat stimulates the production of acid in the body. In a similar vein, you should also try to avoid foods that have a high salt content such as certain ready meals or take-aways because, like alcohol, they will leave you feeling thirsty and dehydrated in the night. Finally, everyone differs in their sensitivity to caffeine but generally speaking it is important to stay away from drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee or certain fizzy drinks, in the evening.
Lifesum is a Stockholm-based digital health company with over 19 million users. Using tech and psychology, it creates a tailored plan to help people live happier, more balanced lives. Whether the goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or just live a healthier life, Lifesum shows how changing small, everyday habits can transform your life. The app is available on iOS and Android.