By Sarah-Jane Bedwell, SELF
How many hours of sleep did you log last night? Harvard scientists found that people who slept for five hours or less a night were 32 percent more likely to put on 33 extra pounds over the course of a year than those who slept a full seven hours. So sleep is important for feeling rested and maintaining a healthy weight, and what you eat before you go to bed can affect the quality of your sleep. Some foods can sabotage your slumber, causing you to wake frequently throughout the night (or even making it difficult to fall asleep in the first place). However, other foods can actually increase the hormones in your brain that promote relaxation and high quality sleep. Read on for smart diet swaps — and finally claim that full night of rest.
Sleep Killer: Turkey
What’s that about turkey making you sleepy? It certainly seems to have that effect after Thanksgiving dinner, but the sleepiness that you feel then is more likely to be caused by eating a carb-filled meal that causes blood flow away from your brain (where it helps you stay alert) to the digestive system. Though the amino acid tryptophan does play a role in the sleep-inducing process, it must be consumed alone and on an empty stomach to achieve this effect.
Sleep Aid: Salmon
Eating salmon for dinner is not just a good idea due to its heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, but also because it is a good source of vitamin B6, which the body needs in order to make sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Sleep Killer: Raw Veggies
We love eating waist-shrinking, disease-preventing veggies, but right before bed is not the best time to have them — especially raw, cruciferous ones like broccoli. The high-fiber content makes them hard to digest; normally a good thing since it helps us to feel fuller longer. But save them for lunch; eating them close to bedtime could lead to bloating, gas, and discomfort.
Sleep Aid: Leafy Greens
Calcium helps the body use tryptophan and manufacture melatonin, our body’s sleep-inducing hormone. Leafy greens are the perfect source of calcium for catching some Zzs since they provide the mineral without high levels of fat or protein.
Sleep Killer: Wine
Think that a glass of wine before bed is a good idea? Think again! Although it may seem to help you fall asleep faster, studies have shown that alcohol before bed reduces your quality of sleep. As the vino is processed by your body, you spend less time in the important REM phase of sleep, and you’ll wake up without feeling rested the next day.
Sleep Aid: Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice is a great natural source of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Drinking some before bed won’t necessarily help you fall asleep faster, but studies show it can help you sleep more soundly and wake fewer times throughout the night.
Sleep Killer: Decaf Coffee
You probably know to avoid caffeine as bedtime approaches if you want to maximize your slumber, but decaf coffee isn’t completely free from caffeine. Whether you opt for decaf or regular joe, having your last cup before 2 p.m. is a good rule of thumb to get the best sleep possible.
Sleep Aid: Chamomile Tea
Having something warm before bed can be especially comforting, and chamomile tea is a great choice since research shows that it stimulates an increased release of glycine, a neurochemical that acts as a mild sedative.
Sleep Killer: Ice Cream
While vegging out on the couch with a pint of Jeni’s might seem like a good way to relax at the end of the day, it may actually contribute to poorer sleep quality as well. Eating high-fat foods before bed can lead to indigestion or frequent middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.
Sleep Aid: Popcorn
Complex carbs stimulate the release of serotonin, a neurochemical that makes you feel relaxed. Air-popped popcorn is a great complex carb to enjoy as a bedtime snack since it’s also low in protein and fat (as long as you go easy on the butter!) since those two nutrients actually slow digestion and can lead to heart burn if consumed in high quantities right before hitting the sack.
Sleep Killer: Dark Chocolate
We frequently praise its heart-healthy antioxidants, but it’s easy to forget dark chocolate is a source of naturally occurring caffeine. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it has due to the higher level of cocoa solids.
Sleep Aid: Honey
If you just can’t sleep without a little night-time sweet, honey may be your best bet. Not only is it a natural source of carbohydrates, which can induce sleep, honey’s natural sugar causes a slight increase in the body’s insulin response, which could help sleep-inducing tryptophan to enter the brain more quickly.