Whether you just find it hard to switch off or you’re an insomniac, falling asleep can be a nightmare. A lack of sleep or a disrupted rest can massively impact concentration, productivity and can have bigger mental and physical health problems in the long term, so getting a good night’s sleep is vital to your wellbeing.
There are so many sleep tips and tricks out there these days, like TikTok sleep hacks (opens in new tab), listening to brown noise (opens in new tab) and tuning in to sleep podcasts (opens in new tab), so if you struggle with sleeping, we’re sure you’ve tried everything at this point! But, what you eat for dinner or before bed can have an effect on how long it takes you to fall asleep and the kind of sleep you get overall.
To help you get a good night’s sleep, we’ve found 8 foods you should eat and 4 foods you should avoid before bed. We’ve had a look at this previously in our 10 foods recommended by a sleep expert (opens in new tab) and 3 foods that could be to blame for lack of sleep (opens in new tab) guides, so if you want even more foodie recommendations, check these out, too.
- Drift off to sleep with the best mattress (opens in new tab)
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Foods that help you sleep
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout are not only healthy for you, but can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, according to Healthline (opens in new tab). Fatty fish are full of vitamin D and omega 3 acids, and when in combination with each other, they increase the body’s production of serotonin. Serotonin plays a key role in body functions, like mood, digestion and sleep, so having more of this before bed can improve sleep quality. Omega 3 also improves brain health, so it can affect how you function during the day.
Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and brazil nuts all have amazing health benefits. Nuts contain melatonin, magnesium and zinc which are said to improve sleep quality and help with insomnia. Melatonin regulates your internal body clock which prepares you for sleep. Brazil nuts are also high in selenium, a mineral that helps maintain healthy brain functions and protect your body against disease and infection.
Eating a bowl of cherries or drinking cherry juice before bed is incredibly beneficial for sleep. It’s worth noting the cherries we’re talking about are tart or sour rather than sweet. The main differences (other than taste and colour) are the amount of sugar they contain which can affect how long it takes you to fall asleep. Tart cherries have been found to have many sleep benefits. They not only improve duration and quality, but they’re known to make people feel sleepier. Like tree nuts, cherries have melatonin in them which regulates your circadian rhythm, which encourages sleep.
Turkey is a great source of protein which is important to have in your diet. The protein in turkey is said to promote tiredness and consuming protein before bed can improve your sleep quality and help you wake up less throughout the night. Turkey also contains tryptophan which is an amino acid that increases the production of melatonin.
5. White rice
Rice is a carbohydrate, and while there has been mixed results on whether carbs should be eaten before bed, white rice has been said to help aid better sleep. White rice is lower in fibre and nutrients than brown rice, but has a high glycemic index, which measures how quickly your blood sugar increases when you eat food. Foods with a high GI are said to improve sleep quality and how long you sleep for. According to research from Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab), rice should be eaten 1-4 hours before bed to experience these effects.
6. Herbal tea
Herbal tea before bed has been popular for years. Chamomile tea contains flavonoids which are said to have sleep-inducing properties. Both chamomile and ginger teas are recommended before bed as they’re anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants, which can soothe the body and help it drift off to sleep quicker. If you’re not a tea fan, water before bed is hydrating and drops your body temperature which makes you feel sleepier.
Figs contain magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron which aid blood flow and muscle contraction, which can help you fall asleep, according to Good Housekeeping (opens in new tab). While you shouldn’t have anything too sugary before bed, figs have natural sugars which cater to your sweet touch and help with blood flow.
8. Cottage cheese
There are many studies surrounding whether dairy is good or bad for sleep, but mild cheeses like cottage or string cheese are said to be beneficial. They’re sources of protein, calcium and tryptophan which as we’ve discussed, produces melatonin which controls your sleep cycle. Cottage cheese is great for acid reflux and heartburn so if you suffer from this, it can ward this away before you sleep. Stronger or aged cheeses should typically be avoided which leads us nicely to the foods you should avoid before bed.
Foods that affect your sleep
We know caffeine isn’t technically a food, but caffeinated foods and drinks can keep you up at night. Coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, alcohol and chocolate should be avoided, as they increase your energy levels which make you feel more awake. If you’re trying to wean off coffee, check out 5 steps to curbing your caffeine addiction (opens in new tab).
While tomatoes are pretty good for you as they contain potassium, vitamin B and E, they’re also very acidic. If you suffer from heartburn, the acid from tomatoes can affect this, especially when you lie down as it travels up your oesophagus. If you’re having a tomato-based dinner, try to eat it a few hours before you go to sleep or have a few spoonfuls of cottage cheese to get rid of the acid reflux.
3. Ice cream
Bad news for late night ice cream eaters, but ice cream isn’t great for sleep. Ice cream has high levels of sugar which spikes your blood sugar and leads to a crash later on when you’re asleep. This crash increases your cortisol levels which wakes you up more frequently throughout the night.
Curry and spicy foods are a big no-no before bed. Curries can be quite high in capsaicin, a chemical that interferes with the body’s thermoregulation. If you’re too hot or cold at night, this can disrupt your sleep, and you’re also using lots of energy to digest the spice which can keep you up too. Spice also causes indigestion and acid reflux, similar to tomatoes, so best to avoid it if you can.