From our weight, energy levels and overall health to how well we recover from sport and how well we sleep at night, our diet can have a massive impact on many areas of our lives. So, which foods and drinks are best to help you relax, sleep and feel rested? Read on below for the snacks to munch and beverages to sip to help you on your way to a sweet slumber.
1. Warm Milk
It’s a classic – a warm cup of milk to soothe and ease the journey to sleep – and one most of us remember having doled out to us as a child. Containing the ‘sleep’ hormone melatonin and the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, milk can aid the urge to fall asleep, according to BBC Food who recommend combining warm milk with a carbohydrate such as cereal. Research has shown that combining tryptophan-rich foods with carbs can increase its effectiveness.
2. Oily Fish
In a series of top tips for a better night’s sleep, nutritionist Lily Soutter advocates incorporating oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies, into your diet. She explains that the boost of omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish has been found to stimulate melatonin. Chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, walnuts and vegetable oil are good sources for a meat free diet according to the Vegan Society.
3. Sweet cherry juice
Another good source of melatonin is cherries: notably tart Montmorency cherries and the juice of the fruit. While the effectiveness of the fruit and its juice when it comes to sleep and, in particular those with insomnia, has been debated, research has shown promising results. A 2012 study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that tart cherry juice provided an increase in melatonin, which is beneficial in improving the duration and quality of sleep. The research also suggested that the juice could be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep.
4. Chamomile tea
We know that limiting caffeine intake during the day is a wise move, but if you’re still seeking a mug of something hot, then why not try swapping to a caffeine-free herbal tea? Chamomile has long been associated with relaxation and sleep – although the jury is out on exactly how reliable it can be with aiding sleep.
While some herbal teas, such as elderflower, rose, wild blackberry and nettle are diuretics (not ideal for a good night’s sleep), the NHS [pdf link] suggest chamomile tea as a good option due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory properties and ability to relieve flatulence. Ginger and peppermint teas are also popular choices.
Stressed muscles? Then reach for a banana. Containing magnesium and potassium – which can help relax muscles – bananas also contain sleep favourite, tryptophan. They’re also a good source of carbohydrates. The Sleep Council suggest either eating whole or blending into a smoothie for an evening snack.
6. Turkey and chicken
High in tryptophan (which increases serotonin) and vitamin B6, turkey and chicken are beneficial in helping your body make melatonin, according to sleep expert and author of Fast Asleep, Wide Awake, Nerina Ramlakhan. Bread, eggs, milk, soya beans, potatoes and peanuts are other good sources of B6.
Not only are almonds delicious, they are also packed full of goodness as they contain vitamin E, zinc, selenium, magnesium, calcium and B vitamins. An excellent source of fibre and protein, they are a fantastic source of melatonin too. Almonds also make for a convenient snack so grab a handful in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Oats and wholegrains are rich in magnesium, a key nutrient needed for quality sleep. In cookery writer Heather Thomas’ and nutritionist Alina Tierney’s book of recipes to help aid sleep, Eat to Sleep, the pair suggest a delicious dish incorporating not only oats, but two of the other foods that feature on our list: cherry, oat and almond crumble. Make sure to bookmark that recipe for a treat.
Eggs are one of the best sources of tryptophan writes dietitian Stephanie Fade. She suggests a snack combining eggs with a carbohydrate, such as poached eggs on a thin slice of toast, as a good option in the evening. However, some people might prefer a high tryptophan food in their main evening meal and then a carb, such as a slice of toast, before bed, she says.
Full of vitamin B6, chickpeas are another good ingredient to add into your evening meal. Hummus, which contains chickpeas, is a good alternative for a pre-slumber snack. Rich in protein, fibre and iron, chickpeas have a low glycemic index meaning they will help prevent a spike in sugar levels and leave you feeling nicely full and satisfied.