The brain depends on a complex array of nutrients to ensure peaceful, uninterrupted slumber. If you’re battling nighttime wakefulness, eat these foods 2–4 hours before bed.
Chickpeas are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a precursor to serotonin, which plays a crucial role in sleep modulation. Food sources of tryptophan may be as effective as supplements: In one study, dietary tryptophan significantly reduced insomnia, especially when combined with complex carbohydrates. Because chickpeas contain both tryptophan and carbs, they’re a great food for promoting sleep. They’re also high in fiber, and studies show that a low-fiber diet is associated with light, less restorative sleep and more nighttime wakings.
Eat this: Spread hummus on flatbread and top with kalamata olives; mix with cooked chicken and serve in lettuce cups; mix with vegetable broth, add vegetables, and heat for an easy, creamy soup.
2. Almond butter
Almonds and other nuts are packed with magnesium—1/4 cup contains 25 percent of the daily value. They’re also rich in sleep-promoting tryptophan; potassium, which can significantly increase sleep efficiency and decrease awakenings after falling asleep; and B vitamins, which promote restful sleep.
Eat this: Slice an apple crosswise into rounds, then spread with almond butter for a simple bedtime snack; toss hot soba noodles, shredded carrots, and minced scallions with almond butter; cook sweet potatoes in coconut milk till tender, add almond butter, purée until smooth, and season with curry powder.
Tart cherries are high in melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. In one study, volunteers who drank tart cherry juice for seven days had elevated melatonin levels and significant increases in sleep time and sleep efficiency. Another study found that tart cherry juice was as effective as the herbal sleep aid valerian. Sweet cherries are also high in melatonin, and may have sleep-promoting effects.
Eat this: Purée frozen cherries with milk and honey for a soothing bedtime smoothie; simmer tart cherries in balsamic vinegar and honey until tender, then serve with vanilla yogurt; combine chopped cherries with minced red onion, jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and lime juice for a savory salsa.
4. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is very rich in B vitamins—2 Tbs. contains the full daily value for vitamin B and 400 percent of the daily value for vitamin B. Vitamin B is crucial for the nervous system, and studies show that B intake is significantly correlated with sleep duration. Vitamin B is necessary for the production of serotonin, and research suggests that deficiencies can promote psychological distress and associated sleep disturbances.
Eat this: Toss hot popped corn with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor; stir nutritional yeast into hummus; add to a spinach and cheese omelet for a sleep-inducing dinner.
Corn is high in carbs, which can promote sleep when eaten the right way. Carbs stimulate insulin, which indirectly makes tryptophan more available. Higher-glycemic carbs are more effective than lower-glycemic carbs, but sugary carbs such as cookies and candy can upset blood sugar and interrupt sleep later in the night. Organic, non-GMO corn is a good choice because it has a moderate glycemic index—a measure of how quickly or slowly a food causes increases in blood glucose levels. You can also try rice. One study found that eating white rice four hours before bedtime halved the amount of time it took to fall asleep.
Eat this: Stuff a warm corn tortilla with leftover chicken salad for an easy nighttime snack; sauté corn, chopped spinach, diced red peppers, and cubes of chicken, then top with cotija cheese; purée corn with milk, vanilla, and honey, and freeze in an ice cream maker.
Kiwis are rich in sleep-promoting phytochemicals. In one study, volunteers who ate two kiwi fruits an hour before bed significantly decreased the amount of time it took to fall asleep, while increasing total sleep duration and sleep efficiency. Kiwis are high in serotonin (as are plantains, pineapples, bananas, plums, walnuts, and tomatoes), but because serotonin can’t cross the blood brain barrier, it’s likely that the fruit’s high antioxidant content is responsible for its sleep-promoting activities. Studies have shown that poor sleep is linked with lower levels of antioxidants.
Eat this: Toss peeled and cubed kiwi with chopped cherries and slivered
almonds for a simple pre-bed snack; layer kiwi slices in a parfait glass
with vanilla yogurt and granola; purée peeled kiwi with chamomile tea for a sleep-promoting bedtime beverage.
Spinach is high in magnesium, which naturally relaxes the nerves and muscles, thereby calming the body and encouraging sleep. Magnesium can also help prevent leg cramps, a common cause of nighttime waking. Additionally, spinach is a good source of calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. Research suggests that a calcium deficiency can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Eat this: Purée a handful of spinach with milk or almond milk and a frozen banana for a soothing bedtime smoothie; sauté spinach with cooked chickpeas, diced sweet potatoes, and toasted almonds; toss chopped spinach with hot pasta and olive oil, and top with cheese.
View our Sweet Almond Butter Hummus recipe.