There are many habits we can practice and items we can use to lead to better sleep at night. Some of the most popular suggestions often include guided meditation, turning off electronic devices and avoiding blue light, cuddling with a weighted blanket, or falling asleep to the sound of a white noise machine.
Food also plays a significant role in the way we get a good night’s rest. Obviously, we know a few basics like avoiding caffeine before bed and the importance of staying hydrated and drinking water throughout the day. Are there any other healthy eating habits we can implement now that can lead to sleeping better at night?
I spoke with Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, for her insight into what to eat in the early evening and at bedtime to help get good sleep.
Lam suggests eating complex carbohydrates at dinner. Some examples of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains, brown and wild rice, potatoes, and legumes, like black beans and lentils.
According to Lam, studies show that eating a small portion of “good” complex carbohydrates promotes the best quality sleep. You might have noticed some of the aforementioned complex carbohydrates, well, contain plenty of carbs. That’s okay in small portions for your dinner.
“Carbs are believed by some experts to trigger your body to secrete insulin,” Lam explains. “This uses up other amino acids in your bloodstream first, leaving more L-tryptophan to sedate the body.”
Good protein can include but isn’t limited to eggs, broccoli, tuna, quinoa, and chicken breast. Lam recommends eating plenty of good protein in the early evening, as proteins are used by the body for muscle repair and immune function.
According to Lam, most forms of protein are not well digested before bed. Eating good protein in the early evening helps the body to repair muscle tissue at night during deep sleep. She recommends taking 1-2 tablespoons of hydrolyzed collagen Types I and III before going to bed — and avoiding protein powders. These powders take more energy to digest and can leave you with a heavy feeling during the night.
Eating Foods High in Oleic Acid
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid. It’s usually found in vegetable oils, including olive, canola, and sunflower. Oleic acid is a precursor of oleamide, which is sleep inducing and helps regulate the body’s drive for sleep.
Having a salad for dinner? Switch out your typical dressing with an oleic-acid rich oil instead. You may also decide to use high-oleic sunflower oil when cooking. According to the National Sunflower Association, high oleic sunflower oil is typically composed of at least 80% oleic acid.
Bone Broth or Gelatin
As bedtime approaches and we begin to wind down for the evening, it’s important to ingest foods that get us ready to sleep. Two great examples are drinking bone broth or eating some gelatin.
“These foods either contain or are high in glycine, an amino acid with sleep promoting effects,” Lam says. “35% of the amino acids in gelatin, the cooked form of collagen, are glycine, which is a non-essential amino acid.”
Recent studies have shown that glycine ingestion before bedtime significantly improves sleep quality, especially for those that struggle with insomnia.
“Scientists believe that glycine can promote sleep because it can cause a significant decrease in the core body temperature,” Lam says. “The onset of sleep is known to involve a decrease in the core body temperature.”
Fish Oil Supplements
Another method for improving your quality of sleep is taking a fish oil supplement.
In 2014, a placebo-controlled study from the University of Oxford revealed that higher levels of omega-3 DHA, the group of long-chain fatty acids found in algae and seafood, are associated with better sleep.
Just a tablespoon of honey can help promote relaxation and ease your body to sleep at night.
“The natural sugar found in honey raises the body’s insulin slightly,” Lam explains. “This allows tryptophan, the compound well-known for making us lethargic after eating turkey at Thanksgiving, to go into our brains more easily.”
Still hankering for a small snack before bedtime? Lam recommends munching on light snacks, like soaked almonds, turkey or chicken meat, soft boiled eggs, or cottage cheese.
These snacks will help maintain your blood sugar levels longer at night as you sleep, preventing frequent awakenings in the middle of the night and satisfying your pre-bed cravings.