From work to hyper kids to newly-released shows on Netflix, there are a million reasons why many of us (one in three, to be exact) fail to get the Zzz’s we need. And in addition to our already-late bedtimes, many of our sleep cycles are also sabotaged by our late-night eats (like ice cream, cookies, and even wine) or four o’clock cappuccinos.
One way to ensure you drift off to dreamland as soon as your head hits the pillow? Switch out your usual nighttime snack for one that works with your body to help you sleep. Below are six foods that’ll wind you down; if they could talk, they’d practically sing you a lullaby.
Tryptophan (which so many of us associate with turkey) is an amino acid that produces the ‘feel-good hormone’ serotonin, which stimulates the production of melatonin, the hormone our body releases when it’s time to slow down and sleep. Calcium helps our brain use that tryptophan, while magnesium also activates sleep-related neurotransmitters and regulates melatonin.
Just choose a lower-fat cheese and stick to one serving, since eating more calories—especially from fat—before bed can leave you counting sheep.
2. Chamomile Tea
A relaxing mug of chamomile tea should be a bedtime staple—especially if you’re frequently kept up by digestive issues. Chamomile has long been used in traditional medicine for its calming, relaxing effect—both on our mood and bellies—plus, the tea’s warmth has the power to soothe.
3. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are magical in that they actually contain that sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. In fact, research shows that drinking tart cherry juice can even help troubled sleepers score a whopping 85 extra minutes of shut-eye. What’s more, the cherries are jam-packed with antioxidants, and their sweet-tart flavor may squelch late-night cravings.
If you’re going for dried tart cherries, stick to a quarter cup to avoid calorie and sugar overload—but you can also drink tart cherry juice or munch on the fruit fresh in the summertime when they’re in season.
Bananas are a natural source of melatonin, and take literally zero work to prepare. As an added bonus, research published in Sports Health suggests that the potassium in bananas may prevent you from waking up during the night with muscle cramps after tough workouts. When you’re craving ice cream, mash up a frozen banana for a healthy, sleep-supporting substitute.
The fuzzy brown fruit makes a great vitamin C and serotonin-filled bedtime snack. In fact, research published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate two kiwis one hour before hitting the hay slept almost an hour longer than those who didn’t.
Different nuts provide different nutrients, but many varieties can help promote a quality snooze.
Let’s start with almonds: These popular snack-time nuts contain tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and protein, so they can both satisfy cravings and promote rest. Next: walnuts, which have been shown to increase our production of melatonin. And last but not least: pistachios, which are basically the bedtime jackpot because they contain protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which plays a role in our production of certain neurotransmitters and processes related to sleep.
Pin this infographic for the perfect sleepytime snack in a pinch:
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.