Dietitians swear by foods for better sleep

A balanced diet and a good night’s sleep sleep are the pillars of a healthy life. But lately, research has begun to uncover just how much the former impacts the latter. A 2021 review in the journal Sleep Medicine Review concluded that a healthy diet was associated with better sleep quality. Few people know this better than dietitians, who are well versed in the role different nutrients can play in falling asleep and staying asleep.

“Sleep and metabolism are both regulated in part by circadian rhythms,” says Christina Badaracco, MPH, RD, LDN, a Washington, DC-based registered dietitian, referring to the human body’s internal clock, which has a impact on the production of hormones and other metabolic processes. “We have also recently learned that our gut microbiota, which is modified by our diet, among other factors, regulates certain aspects of our sleep. The specific types of food and drink we consume, as well as their quantity and timing, affect the quality and duration of our sleep.

In general, research has shown that eating according to the Mediterranean or DASH diet, both of which promote fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and nutrients such as fiber and healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, tends to be associated to better quality sleep. Meanwhile, the typical Western diet has been associated with more restless nights.

“While there isn’t a single food that’s a magic bullet for putting people to sleep, focusing on certain nutrients may actually help the body fall asleep more easily or get better quality rest at night” , says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, a Charleston-based dietician. It’s best to eat a few hours before bedtime to prevent digestive issues from interfering with your sleep and to allow nutrients to be digested before calling it a night. Here are some favorite before bedtime snacks that dietitians enjoy when they want to sleep well.

Banana, nut butter and cinnamon

One of the best-known sleep-promoting nutrients is tryptophan, an essential amino acid (or building block of protein) that plays a role in the production of serotonin and melatonin, says Badaracco. While you may associate tryptophan with turkey and post-Thanksgiving food commas, it’s also found in foods like bananas, oats, and cheese. Adding a little nut butter with no added sugar gives you a boost of magnesium, a mineral that promotes relaxation. A pinch of cinnamon can also add flavor and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Whole Wheat Avocado Toast with Pumpkin Seeds

“Magnesium, a mineral we get through our diet, helps regulate melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep,” Manaker explains. “It also plays a role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, ultimately helping people feel calm.” Avocado and pumpkin seeds are both good sources of magnesium and make a winning combination on whole wheat toast. Plus, the healthy fats in avocado are filling enough to keep hunger pangs from hitting later in the evening.

Oatmeal With Milk, Ginger And Honey

Whole grains like oats increase the production of serotonin, a hormone that relaxes nerves and tells the brain it’s time to sleep, says Karla Giboyeaux, MA, RDN, a New York-based dietitian. Meanwhile, faster-digesting carbohydrates such as honey and milk lactose stimulate the release of insulin, which allows tryptophan to enter the brain, where it can produce more serotonin. This means that this combination doubles your sleepiness factor.

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at

(C)2022 Meredith Corporation. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC — May 31, 2022

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