Sleep Foods: How Can Your Diet Help Your Sleep?

6 Min Read | By Peta Bee

Last Modified 13 February 2024   First Added 6 January 2015

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

We’ve all been there: digging through the fridge in the early hours, hoping for some leftovers to relieve your midnight munchies. However, the ingredients you choose to snack on can heavily affect your sleep quality. Anything caffeinated, alcoholic, overly fatty, spicy or sugary could keep you up long past midnight.

Overall, researchers have found that a varied diet is correlated with normal sleep duration, so you should focus on a healthy, well-rounded menu of foods. To help, we’ve collated a list of sleep-approved midnight snack ideas that not only settle your cravings but help you drift off to the land of nod…

10 best snacks for better sleep and midnight meals

1. Pan fried cinnamon bananas

Bananas are great for a late-night bite because they contain the natural muscle relaxants magnesium and potassium, which promote a good night’s rest. They are also a natural source of melatonin, a hormone released from the pineal gland, which induces sleepiness. Combining bananas with cinnamon is beneficial because cinnamon helps balance blood sugar levels so that hormones can function and you can quickly doze off.

Simply slice up a couple of bananas, place them in a bowl, and combine 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. Fry together in a large pan with olive oil for roughly 3 minutes on each side until the bananas are warm and soft.

2. Turkey and brie sandwich

If you’ve ever felt drowsy after Christmas dinner, it could be due to the mass amount you’ve digested or the sleep-inducing qualities of turkey. Like milk, turkey contains tryptophan that can help you doze off. In addition to this, the British Cheese Study claims cheese commonly creates positive dreams.

After testing cheese-eating sleepers, most claimed positive results from consuming cheese before sleeping. For an extra tasty turkey and brie sandwich, toast the bread and add a little apple jam to one of the slices for flavour.

3. Cereal

High-fibre cereals, such as All-Bran, Ready Brek, or Shredded Wheat, contain what the experts call good and complex carbs that will steady your blood sugar levels. Even better, the accompanying milk has sleep-promoting powers as it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which induces a sleepy sensation.

Although you may be peckish, resist the temptation to have a considerable portion and opt for half a bowl of cereal to leave you feeling satisfied without struggling to digest.

4. Sweet potato chips

Sweet potatoes also seem to have magical qualities when it comes to sleep. They possess sleep-promoting complex carbohydrates and count towards one of our five a day, and they also contain the muscle relaxant potassium.

For this healthy alternative to chips, wash, peel and cut a couple of sweet potatoes into chip sizes. Season with salt, pepper and a little paprika and then once drizzled with olive oil, oven-bake for roughly 35 minutes.

5. Cherry yoghurt

Like bananas, cherries are one of the few natural foods to contain melatonin; consequently, they help you drift off. One scientific study shows that drinking tart cherry juice right before bed helps insomniac adults fall asleep.

To make this dreamy dessert, just blend a pack of frozen cherries until relatively smooth. Then, add one tablespoon of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of almond extract and roughly a cup of low-fat yoghurt.

Heard of a sleepy girl mocktail? Get ready to doze off...

6. Oily fish

Researchers at the University of Oxford suggest that improving your sleep quality could be as simple as incorporating more mackerel, herring, tuna, and salmon into your diet. These fish are rich sources of healthy omega-3 DHA fatty acids. Professor Paul Montgomery and his team found that a 16-week course of daily 600mg omega-3 supplements improved the sleep quality and duration of 362 school children.

Other researchers have shown that adults with low levels of DHA in the blood are more likely to experience sleep disturbance. Of course, omega-3 can also be found in a variety of seeds and beans, with DHA created by the body with high intakes of omega-3.

7. Strawberries

First and foremost are strawberries, which don’t involve a recipe or any fuss, so they are perfect for a quick snack before bed. Not only are they good for you, with their many vitamins and antioxidants, but they also have sleep-inducing qualities. They contain the vitamin B6, which helps create melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone that will help you quickly drift off.

8. Rice

If you’re seeking dietary adjustments to enhance your sleep, consider adding white rice to your meals. Recent scientific findings suggest that consuming a significant amount of white rice can promote deep, restful sleep.

Japanese researchers analysed the diets of almost 2,000 men and women and found that a higher rice intake meant people scored much better on a sleep scale – i.e. they slept well. However, eating bread products – including white bread, pancakes and pizza – did not affect the quality of sleep,

9. Fondue

Although a cheese fondue with some bread isn’t the healthiest of snacks, it’s a pretty tasty bedtime treat. Despite the rumours, there’s no proof that cheese gives you nightmares, but it can impact your dreams in other ways, including increasing dreams about celebrities!

Rub the inside of a fondue pot with a garlic clove for a tasty fondue for two. Add a splash of white wine and lemon juice and heat until boiling. Then, gradually stir in the grated cheese of your choosing and a little water if the mixture becomes too thick.

10. Oysters

Oysters may be a controversial choice, but they contain zinc, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B11, which, when combined, can help you drift off. It’s recommended to only eat oysters in months including the letter ‘r’, so the colder, darker months are a great time to try this sleep hack.

What foods to avoid for better sleep

Now we’ve covered what you should eat to help you sleep; let’s discuss what you should avoid!

If you’re hoping to sleep easy, try to avoid the following foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Curry
  • Tomatoes (if you suffer from acid reflux and heartburn – tomatoes before bed are not your friend!)
  • Noodles and pasta
  • High sugar foods
  • High fatty foods

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When should you stop eating before bed?

There are two camps when it comes to eating before bed. Some people are staunchly against it, following advice like that from the 10-3-2-1-0 method, which recommends having your last meal or snack 3 hours before bed. This is supported by a 2020 study that showed those who ate within 3 hours of going to bed were more likely to wake up during the night, but it didn’t impact how long it took to fall asleep or how long they slept.

Likewise, in 2021, another study found that men and women who ate or drank 1 hour before bed were more likely to wake during the night and sleep for longer. Ultimately, more research is needed to pin down the “perfect” timings for your nightly fast.

Conversely, hunger can interrupt your sleep. Lack of proper nutrition can leave you sleeping poorly, and, if you’ve ever gone to bed hungry, you’ll know how hard it is to ignore a growling stomach and fall asleep. You’re also likely to wake up if your blood sugar drops too low. Therefore, what works best with your routine is the right thing to do.

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