According to the CDC, around 35% of Americans aren't getting enough sleep. There are plenty of reasons for this, from high-stress lifestyles to blue-light exposure to that midnight snack you just pulled out of the fridge.
Truth be told, going to sleep on an empty stomach isn't always the best idea. But choosing what to eat in the hours before bed takes some finesse. I assure, coffee and whiskey aren't on the list.
In this guide, we'll take a look at what you should and shouldn't eat for a better night's sleep.
Why Is What You Eat Before Bed Important?
We've all been there. It's late at night, and your stomach is growling. You're meant to be asleep in an hour, but if you stuff yourself, you know the science experiment going on in your stomach is going to keep you awake.
Honestly, for many, it may be a bad idea to try and fall asleep if you're hungry. Not just because the sensation will keep you awake, but because your body may need some extra nutrients to kickstart it's restorative, healing processes.
Furthermore, if you manage to fall asleep hungry, you'll surely wake up feeling ravenous. This probably isn't good if you've planned an early training session before work (and explains why most intermittent fasters consume their feast at night).
One vital thing to realize with food: the right kind of foods in the right amounts plays an essential role in regulating your hormones, including those responsible for your sleep.
Foods that contain sleep-supporting nutrients are essential. Of course, you should be consuming these foods throughout the day as part of a balanced diet, but in a pinch, there's little harm in a relatively small sleep-promoting snack in the hour or so before bed.
What to Eat Before Bed
Before we explain the best foods to eat before bed, let's clarify one thing. Eating before bed doesn't mean consuming a full-blown meal 5 minutes before your head hits the pillow.
If you're planning on sitting down for a three-course meal, this should be done no later than three hours before you go to bed. However, a small snack of around 150 calories eaten around one hour before bed isn't likely to interfere with sleep. They can even be beneficial for muscle protein synthesis and cardiometabolic health.
Let's see what these small snacks should look like.
Cherries come in wide varieties, but the ones you're looking for are the tart versions: Richmond, English morello, and Montmorency (not those disgusting, syrupy maraschino cherries which are little more than candy).
Not only are cherries packed full of vitamin A and phytonutrients, including antioxidants and anthocyanins, but they also contain melatonin. Melatonin, for those that don't know, is the hormone that kickstarts your "sleep cascade" and regulates your circadian rhythm.
Tart cherries also contain a small amount of tryptophan, which has been found to aid with sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses to create serotonin and melatonin -- though heavy doses (like you find in OTC supplements) can actually interfere with healthy sleep. Luckily, 100g of tart cherries only contains 9mg of tryptophan, so there's no harm in having them as a late-night snack to top up your daily intake.
White Rice or Oatmeal
We know they're not the most interchangeable dishes, but they're on the list for the same reasons: high-glycemic, complex carbohydrates help get tryptophan into the brain, and thus, regulate your natural melatonin production.
Be careful, however. While carbs can help you fall asleep more quickly (the reason most folks need a nap after lunch), some studies have shown that they actually inhibit the deeper stages of sleep.
A small bowl of rice or oatmeal about 2 hours before bed, however, may be the ticket that many folks need.
You might associate bananas with high energy. They're the perfect peri-workout snack, after all. However, bananas also have their place at the end of the day.
Bananas are rich in magnesium, which plays a vital role in helping you sleep in several different ways. It's responsible for maintaining your circadian cycle and also helps to reduce cortisol and increase melatonin production.
In addition to magnesium, bananas are another good natural source of tryptophan.
Almonds and Walnuts
Nuts like almonds and walnuts are a powerhouse of sleep-supporting nutrients. They both have high melatonin content, and also contain magnesium and zinc. The unsaturated fats in almonds and walnuts are not only essential for your heart and brain health, but they'll also help your body regulate its melatonin levels.
Regular consumption of fatty fish such as salmon has been found to improve overall sleep and daytime functioning. The omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D content both contribute to helping the body regulate serotonin levels. Vitamin D also plays a big part in cell regrowth, which can help to boost muscle recovery while you're sleeping.
It's worth noting that while every bit of extra vitamin D might help, trying to get a wholesome amount from just eating salmon before bed isn't going to do you much good. That's why we packed Hibernate Sleep Formula with a proper man-sized dose of vitamin D!
This is the one that gets the gym fanatics excited! Yes, turkey is one of the best lean protein sources and the perfect snack before bed.
Turkey is an excellent source of tryptophan, which, as we've discussed, helps the body create serotonin and melatonin. If you think back to our tart cherries containing only 9mg of tryptophan per 100mg, turkey boasts a whopping 250-300mg.
Once again, however, be careful. Remember how heaping doses of turkey knock you out after Thanksgiving dinner? Those same doses may actually inhibit deeper sleep cycles. As always, moderation is key.
Okay, we don't exactly condone drinking beverages before bed. A full bladder isn't part of the recipe for good sleep!
But milk contains both tryptophan and calcium. Tryptophan you already know about, and calcium is integrally involved in melatonin production. It also helps regulate slow-wave sleep generation.
So yes, milk makes it onto the list of foods to help you sleep despite filling your bladder. Try not to drink the whole carton.
Side note: did you know that cows milked at night contain more milk than their daytime counterparts? We're not sure how to buy "nighttime cow's milk," but hey, if you figure it out, let us know!
Hang on! Drinks Before Bed? Surely Not
As well as milk and all its variants, there are several sleep-promoting drinks, such as chamomile and valerian tea. We don't doubt that these can help you to wind down at the end of the day, but they should come with a word of warning.
We strongly avoid consuming any significant liquids in the two hours prior to sleeping. This is because, at some point, you'll probably wake up needing to pee. A good night's sleep shouldn't have interruptions. By avoiding nightcaps, you ensure your brain and body can journey through all the stages of sleep without being rudely awoken by your bladder.
What Foods to Avoid Before Bed
You're clued up on what to eat before bed, but what about what to avoid? Knowing what to leave out of your evening meal is a great way to help improve your sleep quality. With most of these foods, it's not just about avoiding them immediately before you try to sleep. You should also try to avoid eating them later in the day.
We would never want to try and discourage anyone from getting as much vitamin C as possible, but there's a time and a place. Citrus fruits are pretty taxing on the digestive system and are known to increase the chance of indigestion if eaten at night.
Save your oranges and grapefruits for the first half of the day.
Hopefully, the days of getting drunk and demolishing hot wings right before you pass out are long behind you. Spicy foods are just about the worst thing you could eat before bed. They're tough to digest and can cause heartburn, making laying down and nodding off more complicated than you need them to be.
If you're the kind of person who struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep, then it might be time to reevaluate your relationship with caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 1.5-9.5 hours, depending on your tolerance. But get this, it has a quarter-life of up to 12 hours!
Even if you have a strong coffee at noon, a quarter of its caffeine content could still be active at midnight. If you struggle to sleep, try limiting your caffeine intake to first thing in the morning.
Don't cry! We all love chocolate. But if you indulge, do it at breakfast. You might not know this, but chocolate has a high caffeine content (often as high as a shot of espresso). There are synergistic effects between various compounds in chocolate that can mitigate the effects of caffeine, but still. This is probably a big no for the latter part of the day.
It's a dirty-bulkers dream: finishing the day with a triple-stacked burger and a side of fries. However, fried foods are tough on the digestive system. Eating them late at night is a recipe for indigestion. If you are trying to cram in as many calories as possible, do so long before bedtime.
Are You Still Wondering How to Sleep Better?
Now that you know what to eat before bed and what to avoid, you can hopefully improve your sleep quality. Sleep can be something that takes some mastering. It's important to remember that your lifestyle and your winding down routine play a considerable role in determining the quality of your sleep.
If you struggle with sleep and want to gain all the benefits of tart cherries, turkey, and walnuts (without the full belly), then check out Hibernate Sleep Formula. Sure, it won't stop you from eating cake straight out of the fridge at 1 am, but it will guarantee that you have all the nutrients your brain needs to "manufacture" deep, restorative, healthy sleep.