We’ve all been there: you get home from a long day of work after going through your daily hellish commute. You have a quick dinner and try to start your bedroom rituals as soon as possible. After a warm bath and a quick 10 minute meditation (relaxation is one of the purposes of meditation, after all), you light a couple of candles and dive under the covers. You close your eyes and try to get some sleep.
But 2 hours later, you find yourself still wide awake, tossing and turning and hating the fact that it’s now past midnight and you have to be up in just a few hours.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Almost a third of people in the country report not getting nearly enough sleep, with around 10% of people being diagnosed with chronic insomnia. It’s gotten so bad that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified insomnia as a public health epidemic. While there are some obvious fixes (i.e. not drinking coffee at night, keeping your devices out of the bedroom, etc.), there’s one suspected source that people often overlook:
That’s right, that ‘quick bite’ you just had before your bedroom rituals might be affecting you a lot more profoundly than you think. Unfortunately, despite what your mom says, a glass of warm milk is not going to help you catch some Z’s.
Of course, there are certain foods that act as natural relaxants, inasmuch as certain foods act as stimulants: certain fruits, like cherries, are naturally high in melatonin, while apples have unusually high levels of caffeine.
It’s also in the quantity of food we eat: while carbs like white rice and bread can make you feel groggy, having too much before bed can prolong your digestion, keeping you up well into the wee hours of the morning. Of course, a moderate serving of rice or white bread can induce relaxation and sleepiness. That’s because these types of carbs spike your GI (glucose index), which increases your blood sugar level, which, in turn, can lead to an energy crash.
Some carbs, however, should be off your pre-bedtime list: whole milk, while soothing and relaxing, have too much saturated fats, which prolong digestion as well. Whole-wheat foods, like pita bread, is healthy, but unfortunately, they’re also rich in energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, so while they make great breakfasts and midday snacks, it’s best to avoid them at night.
Coffee obviously should be avoided, but certain food and drinks like red meat and alcohol, despite giving you a feeling of relaxation, can also be detrimental to your sleeping patterns, especially alcohol, which can interrupt you in the middle of your snooze.
Chemistry, Psychology, and the Timing of Eating Before Sleeping
That being all said, while the chemistry of your diet does affect your sleep on a physical level, the psychological effects should also be considered: yes, milk does have fat that prolongs digestion, but if a warm, fresh-out-of-the-microwave, frothy glass of milk gives you feelings of warmth, relaxation, and coziness, all of which leading you to a better headspace for sleep, then you should have a little bit.
Contrary to popular opinion, a glass of warm milk before bed won’t send you into a deep slumber because of the properties in the milk, he says. But, if the warm milk actually helps you relax and calm down then that’s what will put you to sleep.
Another thing to consider is the timing of your last meal for the day. Obviously, snacking or eating right before going to sleep is a big no-no: your body is way too busy digesting, which will either prohibit you from falling asleep, or interrupt your sleep stages, which is just as bad. Drinking water or alcohol right before sleeping is also detrimental to sleep, as this activates your body’s natural filtration system, which in turn, will get you up.
Another factor to consider is the timing of your last meal or snack of the day. If you eat right before you sleep, your body will be primed for digestion, which can disrupt sleep otherwise. Similarly, if you drink water right before bed, your body’s filtration system will fire up and you’ll need to wake up more often to go to the bathroom.
Your best bet? Eat the lightest meal you can have around 2 hours before you plan on sleeping. Apply some common sense and avoid obvious stimulants like sugar, caffeine and nicotine. Eat carbs, but eat them in moderation. You wouldn’t think white bread and sleep go hand in hand, but that ham sandwich paired with a glass of warm milk might just be your ticket to dream land.
Foods to Eat Before Sleeping
Tryptophan is a naturally-occuring chemical that helps prep our body for sleep. Some foods are rich in tryptophan, and this can easily help you fall asleep at night. Here are some foods to try to help you settle down, relax, and get you sleepy:
At only 100 calories each and chock-full of fiber, bananas are a great pre-bedtime snack or dessert during dinner. They have all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs, and as an added bonus, bananas are also a very rich source of tryptophan.
It’s one of the richest naturally-occurring sources of magnesium, with one serving containing at least 50% of your recommended daily intake, pumpkin seeds are also a powerful muscle relaxant, making it a perfect pre-bedtime snack that can actually help you unwind.
As mentioned earlier, cherries are another rich source of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. If tryptophan is responsible for making us sleepy, melatonin is responsible for making sure we stay asleep during the whole sleep cycle. Just make sure to get fresh cherries, and not the ones that are soaking in syrup. Tart cherry juice right before bed can also go a long way to helping you sleep through the night.
Specifically, white turkey meat, like the ones from the breast part, are naturally high in tryptophan and proteins, both of which are essential in making you feel sleepy. Of course, try not to overdo it: a couple of slices of good-quality white meat from a roast turkey are more than enough to get you ready for bed.