One of the more common questions I get is related to which foods help you sleep. You may have read about various specific foods that can indeed support your sleep to a certain extent—for example, sour cherries, milk, turkey, kiwi, or nuts.
The truth is, these foods help a little but they don’t make a real, consistent, and significant change in most people who struggle with sleep issues.
Can certain foods help you sleep?
There are foods that can help you sleep, not in the form of individual foods but rather a customized diet that lowers the inflammation in your body, regulates your blood sugar, and provides you with the much needed nutrients to thrive.
What combination of foods we use every day to help us thrive is different for everyone. It can be different based on your gender, age, genetic tendencies, health history, and more.
To give you an example, take this couple in their mid 40s. They tend to eat the exact same meals and one of their favorite warming breakfasts is plain oatmeal with a little butter and berries. But then the wife’s metabolism seems to change; she feels a bit off in the morning and around 10am craves more food. What changed? She is in perimenopause and about to enter menopause. Her hormone levels are lower and she is more insulin-resistant (read more about blood sugar balance in this article). The oatmeal is now no longer ideal for her, even though it’s still a meal that works for him.
How to know if the foods you eat may not be the best for you
Most people know what works best for them if asked the right questions. Here are some statements you can read as you try to identify if the foods you are eating may not be the best for you. Ask yourself, are some of these true?
- You get food cravings, as in sweets or salty foods, or you tend to eat the same foods over and over again
- You feel lightheaded if you go too long without eating
- You notice you get bloated either right after eating or a couple of hours after
- You experience abdominal or stomach pain or discomfort
- Your bowel movement are either too hard or too runny, or you skip a day or more
- You notice energy drops in between meals
- You have to have a snack in the evening, or possibly even at night
- You experience acid reflux after some or all meals
- You notice your hair is brittle or comes out in handfuls
- Your skin is aging prematurely or feels dry or blotchy
- You tend to skip breakfast and not feel hungry for a few hours
These are some signs that could be indicating that your diet is not the best for your overall health and your sleep. Let’s explore the food plan that I go back to in my clinical practice over and over again.
Which foods help you sleep – the 3 main guidelines
The foods that help you sleep well at night are the foods that meet the following criteria.
They are foods that provide plenty of nutrients to your body, so they are full of whole foods, varied in nature (think eating in all different colors every day such as green, tan, purple, yellow, red), filled with fresh vegetables, high-quality protein, healthy fat, and fruit.
They are also foods that you are not sensitive or allergic to; many of my patients first go through an elimination diet for 30 days to identify if any of the foods they are having could be causing inflammation in their bodies and affecting their sleep negatively.
Lastly, these foods leave you feeling satisfied at the time of the meal and are not followed by a food craving.
You see, it’s all about maximizing how the food we ingest gets used in the body. If you are eating foods that create stress—either because they have additives, they’re highly processed, you are having an immune reaction to them, or they don’t provide vital nutrients—your body can’t settle at night into a deep, restful sleep.
9 ideas about which foods help you sleep deeply
Now that I talked about the three main guidelines to consider, here are some specific strategies to follow and some foods that can help you sleep deeply at night.
- Aim for both balanced meals and snacks; we tend to include all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) in main meals, but don’t typically do so with snacks. This will help you sleep better and ease anxiety.
- Drink a cup of water with lemon and 1/8 of a teaspoon of sea salt as soon as you wake up, to encourage healthy adrenal function.
- Eat within 30 to 45 minutes of waking up, to match the natural cortisol response. We want a healthy response of the hormone cortisol in the morning so then it’s followed by a nice drop at night, which allows us to sleep well. If you’re not hungry shortly after waking up, choose a smaller meal that contains some fruit, collagen powder, and ghee or half an avocado.
- Eat at least 15 grams and up to 30 grams of protein with each meal. Eating plenty of protein with each meal stabilizes your blood sugar (which decreases inflammation) and helps make neurotransmitters such as serotonin to help you feel more peaceful and sleep deeper.
- In order to heal your sleep, we focus on carbs coming from fruit and starchy root vegetables, as opposed to favoring grains. Tropical fruits (kiwi, pineapple, papaya) can be really helpful if consumed in small quantities and combined with protein and fat, because they provide quick energy for your brain. Root vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C; they are complex carbohydrates that won’t typically create a sugar rush, especially when in small quantities and when combined with protein and fat. Root veggies can support the serotonin and therefore melatonin production.
- Eat a small amount of fat with each meal; the fat sources can range from butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil to fatty fish and grass-fed meats.
- Eat dinner early and, if possible, have no snacks or food three hours before you go to sleep. If you feel hungry, ask yourself, am I really hungry? Some people can indeed benefit from a snack before bed, so you can then try having a snack one hour before bedtime and see how it affects your sleep over time. If you have been on a ketogenic diet, introduce more carbs very gradually and not in the evening.
- A “golden milk” powder drink can be a good nighttime snack. I have used this drink for years. Make golden milk powder by mixing 4 Tbsp. turmeric, 2 tsp. ginger, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground black pepper, and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg. Store it in a jar. Use one teaspoon per drink. Mix the golden milk powder with your favorite heated milk (such as coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk) and 1/4 tsp. ghee, 2 Tbsp. of collagen powder, and 1/2 tsp. of honey. Another nighttime snack is combining a small amount of fruit (half a banana, one kiwi, or half a cooked apple or pear) mixed with 2 tbsp. of collagen powder with water, as a smoothie. Or you can combine the fruit with sunflower or almond butter.
- If you have had sleep issues for a while and struggle with fatigue as well, using caffeine to give you energy might not be the wisest choice. If you feel the need to have a cup of coffee, try “bulletproof coffee”: 6 ounces of coffee, two ounces of almond milk (or your preferred milk), 1/2 tsp. of ghee or butter or MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides, found in oils like coconut), 1 tsp. of collagen powder, and a pinch of the adaptogenic herb ashwagandha.
These general food guidelines can oftentimes make dramatic improvements in your sleep quality and quality. Give it at least 3 weeks before deciding whether it’s working for you or not.
The truth about food and sleep is that it can help every single person if the right diet plan, timing of meals, and type of meals are customized for you.
If you’d like further support to design the best food plan for you (based on your gender, age, current health status, history, and laboratory findings), get in touch with me, either by making an appointment for a complimentary consult or an initial session. I am happy to help!