Foods for Sleep: The best and worst foods for getting sleep

Did you know that what we eat can impact how we sleep? There are four main vitamins and minerals that can be found in food that promote sleep: tryptophan, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin B6.

Melatonin is a natural hormone which helps regulate our body clock.  Melatonin levels rise in the evening and during the night to help us feel sleepy and ready for sleep. Foods which naturally contain melatonin are cherries, grapes, broccoli and cucumber.

Tryptophan is an amino acid and is converted into melatonin in the body.  Foods which contain tryptophan are:

  • Fruit: bananas, peaches, apples, avocado, bananas
  • Vegetables: spinach and broccoli
  • Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Poultry: turkey, chicken
  • Grains: wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats
  • Fish: tuna, salmon, cod, sardines
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
  • Eggs

Magnesium is essential for the development of sleep stages and circadian regulation. Foods loaded with magnesium include green, leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and wholegrains.

Calcium is a precursor to tryptophan and is widely found in dairy products, dark green vegetables, fish, tofu, oranges and fortified non-dairy milks.

Vitamin B6 also helps convert tryptophan into melatonin. Foods which contain lots of B6 are fish (tuna, salmon), meat (chicken, lean pork, beef), sweet potatoes, bananas, avocado and spinach.

Carbohydrates help to make tryptophan more available to the brain.  I suggest eating complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, oats, and wholegrain bread, pasta or rice as the energy will be released more slowly.

Combining all these foods together, here are some of my favourite meal/snack ideas which help to promote sleep:

  • Spinach and cheese savoury muffins made with almond milk
  • Eggy bread made with wholegrain bread
  • Smoothie made from almond milk, tart cherry juice and banana
  • Turkey and broccoli whole-wheat pasta bake
  • Cherry cheesecake made with cream cheese and a porridge oat base
  • Fish pie using salmon and cod and a mashed sweet potato topping
  • Baked sweet potato with wilted spinach and cheese topping
  • Smashed avocado on brown toast

There are also foods which we should avoid close to bedtime as they inhibit sleep.  Foods that are hard to digest or may cause some discomfort for little ones are:

  • Foods high in fat
  • Refined carbohydrates and sugary foods
  • Spicy meals
  • Dried fruit
  • High protein foods without a complex carbohydrate to balance the meal

Also try to avoid foods that contain stimulants such as tomatoes and aubergine which contain tyramine, and chocolate which contains caffeine.

It’s not only the types of food that your little one eats that you need to be aware of, but also the times at which they eat.

Ideally the last meal of the day should be around 2 hours before your child’s intended bedtime. This allows food to be digested and makes any discomfort less likely. As your baby begins to eat three meals a day it’s a good idea to keep mealtimes to approximately the same time each day as this will help set the natural body clock and consequently lead to a better night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, there are no magic foods that are guaranteed to make children sleep, but introducing your baby to a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet supports a holistic approach to sleep.

If you need any more advice please book a free call with Michelle.

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