While it’s not a good idea to eat heavily close to bedtime, if you’re hungry in the evening, a small snack can be calming. The best snacks contain both a carbohydrate and the amino acid tryptophan, a natural sleep inducer, says Michelle Drerup, a sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic—a nationally recognized research facility. Foods rich in tryptophan include dairy products, soy milk, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, and nuts and seeds. “Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, which is why carbs make you drowsy,” Drerup explains. She recommends natural peanut butter with whole grain crackers, low-fat cheese with apple slices, or a small bowl of whole grain cereal with milk or soy milk.
“Caffeine is a mild stimulant that increases central nervous system activity for hours,” Drerup says. “So avoid all sources of caffeine six to eight hours before bed.” Coffee is loaded with it (100 to 150 milligrams per eight-ounce cup), but other foods, such as chocolate (12 to 25 mg) and energy drinks (60 to 140 mg), contain the stimulant as well. Drerup suggests also avoiding other natural stimulants, including drinks containing guarana seeds, kola nuts, and yerba maté.
Melatonin is hormone secreted by the body that regulates sleep patterns. It is available in supplement form, but you can also get it naturally from food. Researchers have discovered that tart cherries, grapes, and walnuts contain melatonin.
Studies show that even a marginal magnesium deficiency can excite the brain, preventing relaxation at night. Good sources of anxiety-fighting magnesium include leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, black beans, and almonds.
Recent research has shown that certain herbs have a calming effect, and they may help with insomnia. Talk with your doctor before you take any herb or supplement for sleep.
Lavender: Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a hot bath and soak right before bed to calm your mind and body.
Valerian: Try a liquid extract of this sedative herb. Follow the dosage suggested on the bottle. It can take a few weeks to take effect.
Passionflower: Drink a tea infused with soothing passionflower, such as Nighty Night made by Traditional Medicinals.
Extra! Read Sleep Tight to learn gentle moves to help you transition into sleep.