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Can't sleep? The best and worst foods for sleep

Posted by Caroline DiNicola Fawley on
Can't sleep? The best and worst foods for sleep

Quick Take

Can't sleep? You're not alone! 27% of adults struggle with falling asleep nightly, and 68% have trouble getting good sleep at least once a week (1). Stimulants like caffeine and sugar, not to mention the stress of our modern busy lives, makes it harder for many to fall asleep and stay asleep.

And unfortunately, the quality of sleep gets worse as we age because our bodies produce less natural melatonin. But before loading up on sleeping pills or even supplements, you may want to try some proven natural whole food remedies first. (Plus discover which foods are sabotaging your sleep!)

On this page

What is melatonin

Eat these 5 foods high in melatonin

Why not just take melatonin supplements?

Foods to avoid if you want to sleep better

Key takeaways

Before we begin: regulate your sleep with whole plant-based foods

Fill your body with the nutrients you need for a long, restful slumber. MamaSezz ready-made plant-based meals are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and plenty of plant-based protein. One of the first things that our customers notice after eating more plant foods is that they sleep better! Ready to get started?

Order a MamaSezz Get Me Started Bundle today. 

What is melatonin?

If you've had trouble sleeping, chances are you've come across melatonin in your late night Google search.

Melatonin is a hormone made naturally by our body (specifically, our pineal gland) and it can help to regulate sleep and circadian rhythm. Melatonin doesn't knock you out, but rather signals to your body that it is night time. 

Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, so it helps to trap free radicals to reduce inflammation (and the chronic disease that are associated with it).

Melatonin's antioxidant properties can aid eye health, by reducing age-related macular degeneration (4), treat stomach ulcers, calm heart-burn (5), and even help regulate your seasonal depression (6). 

But before you grab a melatonin supplement, did you know you can get melatonin naturally from food? Our bodies can actually absorb the melatonin in plant-based foods and direct it towards our brain, having the same effects as if we produced the melatonin ourselves. 

And many plant-based foods also contain important nutrients, like magnesium and calcium, that promote melatonin production in your body. 

5 foods to help you sleep better

1. Tart Cherries

cherries

Looking for a healthy dessert that will actually promote a good night's sleep instead of hinder it? Grab a handful of melatonin-rich cherries. Or better yet, make a cherry smoothie using MamaSezz Strong Heart Beets!

2. Almonds 

Swap out your refined bedtime snack for a handful of almonds! Almonds are high in tryptophan  yep, the same stuff in turkey that makes people feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps produce melatonin and serotonin, both of which are needed for a restful slumber. Almonds are also high in muscle-relaxing magnesium, which when paired with calcium (also found in almonds!) can increase melatonin in the body. 

3. Raspberries 

Raspberries are another fantastic source of natural melatonin. And they go especially well with that handful of nuts we just mentioned!

4. Goji Berries 

goji

Another berry to add to your nighttime routine. Studies show this melatonin-rich food can improve anxiety and aid in better sleep.

5. Oats

We love a good bowl of oats in the morning, but did you know oats are actually a great nighttime snack, too? They're packed with magnesium, potassium calcium and phosphorous, all of which aid in melatonin production and promote improved sleep! Don't want a bowl of oatmeal at night? Use rolled oats to make a healthy vegan dessert, like these 4-ingredient vegan no bake oatmeal cookies or refined sugar free blueberry crisp.

Why not just take melatonin supplements?

Supplements do not contain the whole food, and therefore do not contain the fiber and many other benefits that plants can provide. These four particular foods are packed to the brim with important nutrients, and when eaten before bed, can help you fall asleep quicker, and get more restful sleep. 

There are many benefits to eating foods in their whole form rather than taking supplements. When you eat the whole food you can ALL the nutrients found in that food, rather than just the one found in a supplement -- like fiber, which regulates digestion, reduces inflammation, and promotes the growth of good gut bacteria. Not to mention, some of the vitamins found in food actually help you to better absorb OTHER vitamins in your diet. 

5 worst foods for sleep

Speaking of diet...while adding whole plant-based foods that promote sleep is a fantastic way to get a better night's sleep, it's also important to know which foods are sabotaging your rest. 

1. Alcohol

That evening glass of wine doesn't actually help us wind down, contrary to popular belief. In fact, alcohol is often disruptive to our sleep. If enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail is part of your evening routine, try swapping in one of these mocktail recipes instead.

2. Coffee

The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant and drinking it too close to bedtime can really do a number on your sleep quality.  You don't need to totally quit coffee for the sake of your sleep though (insert collective sigh of relief!) A good rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine after noon. Always have an afternoon cup of joe? Here are 5 coffee alternatives to try instead. 

3. Refined sugar snacks

So many of us are conditioned to reach for something sweet at the end of a day -- a well-deserved treat, right? Well here's the thing: all the refined sugar in our evening treats isn't just causing chronic inflammation, it's also making a good night's sleep hard to come by. The good news is you can still satiate your sweet tooth on a whole food plant-based diet, without refined sugar. 

4. Celery

Whaaat? yep, even some healthy foods, like celery, should be avoided before bedtime. Why? In this case, celery has a high water content, which means you may be up all night going to the bathroom instead of snoozing. 

5. Red meat

While high fat foods in general are something to be avoided before bed, red meat in particular messes with your circadian rhythm because it takes a lot of work to digest all that animal protein. you don't have to cancel burger night just yet: swap out your beef patty with a vegan Mama's Burger instead. 

Key Takeaways

  • Melatonin is a hormone made naturally by our body (specifically, our pineal gland) and it can help to regulate sleep and circadian rhythm. 
  • Melatonin can also be found naturally in plants.
  • Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant with healing properties. 
  • 5 of the best foods to eat for better sleep: cherries, almonds, raspberries, goji berries, oats.
  • 5 foods that are hurting your sleep: alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, celery, red meat. 

Citations

(1) Consumer Reports

(2) NutritionFacts

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