If you had to choose between good nutrition and good sleep for your health, I’d have you chose sleep every time.
Luckily you don’t have to choose though because the reality is that our nutrition heavily affects our sleep patterns.
Note, today we are focusing solely on nutrition tips to sleep better. I encourage you to also read my top 10 sleep better tips that I share with every single one of my clients as well.
So there are two things we need to focus on to promote better sleep:
- What to Eat? During the day to promote better sleep.
- What to Eat? Before bed to promote better sleep.
What to Eat? During the Day To Sleep Better
Certain nutrients help the body produce melatonin, the bodies’ natural sleep hormone, as we get closer to bedtime. Focusing on getting enough of each of these from food (where it’s best absorbed) will promote better sleep by providing the right nutrients to boost melatonin (your sleepy hormone) production.
1. Eat Enough Calcium
Calcium is an important mineral for melatonin production. You’ll want to make sure you get enough calcium throughout the day.
- Fortified Non-Dairy Substitutes
2. Get Enough Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 has been closely studied for it’s a relationship to sleep and mood regulation. This vitamin helps convert the amino acid tryptophan to melatonin.
- Sweet Potatoes
To sleep better, whole food nutrition overall is critical because nutrients are always best absorbed from food. If you struggle to get nutrient-dense foods like those above throughout the day, I can help with that! What to Eat? Meal Plans will help you get more real whole foods into your diet while getting organized in the kitchen.
What Foods To Eat? Before Bed
3. Magnesium Foods Before Bed & All Day
Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including relaxation and deactivation of adrenaline. Magnesium is literally known as the “sleep mineral” majority of Americans are not getting enough throughout the day or in their meal right before bed.
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Swiss Chard
- Sesame Seeds
To get enough Magnesium on a daily basis you have to be eating whole foods 90% of the time. If you need help, I’ve got meal plans and meal prep guides that can help you stay on track and get more whole nutrient-dense food in your diet!
4. Tryptophan Rich Foods Before Bed
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is often blamed for the Thanksgiving coma. That’s because tryptophan gets converted to serotonin and then melatonin.
- Cottage cheese
- Pumpkin seeds
Not that most of these are high-quality protein sources. I would argue that getting in enough protein throughout the day is essential to getting better sleep at night. Protein combats cravings and helps keep blood sugar steady, essential to a good nights rest. If you need an example of how to get enough protein in, What to Eat? Meal Plans all have at least 100 grams of protein per day.
5. Melatonin Rich Foods To Boost Melatonin
Your body ramps up production of Melatonin as you get closer to bed and slows down production in the morning when you wake up. Providing the right precursors mentioned above (calcium, tryptophan, magnesium, and B6) will help your body produce more of this hormone, however, some foods naturally contain it as well. Most research shows you need to consistently eat these foods around dinner to see improvement in sleep within 30 days.
- Tart cherries and cherry juice (not dried)
- Goji Berries
What About Supplements?
I recently shared my thoughts on supplements in this post, it’s worth a read if you currently take any supplements, want to take supplements, or are scared of supplements.
Remember, nutrients are always always always best absorbed from food. So while you can take calcium, magnesium, tryptophan, B6, and melatonin in supplement form, you will not absorb as much as you would from food. A few words of caution:
Is the only B-Vitamin that can be toxic at high levels. You should be getting enough in your multi-vitamin and it’s unlikely you would need more outside of that. Supplement with extreme caution.
Should be taken in divided doses away from a multi-vitamin and away from iron supplements. The more you take at one time the less your body will absorb, this is true of all supplements but particularly important for calcium.
My number one recommendation for a magnesium supplement is Natural Calm. I take 1/2 teaspoon every night (1 teaspoon while nursing) right before bed to help me sleep and keep things regular. For me, this has been way more effective than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it helps with muscle recovery and many other functions in the body.
Most people take 5 HTP, which is a metabolite of the tryptophan to melatonin conversion to help improve sleep. This is because if you take tryptophan, it could be used for 100 different processes and not for melatonin production. PROCEED WITH CAUTION if you are taking an SSI’s or any medications for depression and/or anxiety. I use a 5 HTP and Gaba complex with my clients, but it’s intended to be used in the short term ONLY. In fact, I would likely recommend a CBD supplement before trying the 5 HTP/Gaba complex.
Research shows you can use melatonin safely for 1-2 years, but after that many people start having side effects. Furthermore, the efficacy of how effective taking straight melatonin is unclear. If it helps you for a while, great! I used to take it in Grad school, but I don’t think it helped all that much and it’s not my number one sleep aid recommendation.
*Remember to talk with your doctor or dietitian about supplements before you begin any. Supplements interact with medications and other supplements, review them with your trusted health professional.
What Foods To Avoid To Sleep Better
- Obviously right? Avoid caffeine after 2 pm, or if you are sensitive before noon.
- It may make your sleep but it actually will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have less REM sleep. Avoid for at least 3-4 hours before going to bed.
Sugar & Refined Grains
- If you eat a bunch of sugar at day and before bed you are going to have an increased appetite which is likely to impair your sleep quality.
Fasting vs. Bedtime Snack
Research is mixed on this one, shocker I know. I encourage my clients and meal plan subscribers to experiment here. Some will find that a bedtime snack rich in tryptophan, complex carbs, calcium, magnesium, and melatonin is the key to restful sleep. Others will find that avoiding food for 3-4 hours before bed helps improve their sleep.
10 Snack Ideas
Personally, I don’t go out of my way to have a bedtime snack unless I’m hungry because I don’t think extra calories are the answer to our sleep problems. However, if I’m hungry then I’ll choose one of these combinations to help me sleep better.
- Cottage Cheese + Goji Berries + Pumpkin Seeds
- Smoothie with Cottage Cheese + Tart Cherry Juice + Spinach + Stevia
- Smoothie with Soymilk + Tart Cherry Juice + Spinach + Stevia
- Yogurt + ground Flaxseed +Walnuts
- Hard-Boiled Eggs + Kiwi
- 1/2 Sweet Potato with Almond Butter
- A handful of Edamame with salt
- Smoked Salmon & Tomato Slices
- Walnuts + Almonds Mixed
- Yogurt + Raspberries + Pumpkin Seeds
Question of the day?
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
Do you have a bedtime routine you find helps with sleep?