Going to bed on a full stomach is a recipe for a sleepless night. Yet sometimes, eating later than we'd like at night can't be avoided. In fact, dieticians have found that a small snack (200 calories or less) of the right food before bed can actually help you sleep. It's all about choosing food that releases sleep-inducing chemicals and that don't overwork your digestion.
Here are our suggestions for what to choose as a late night snack and why they're the best choice to help you sleep soundly...
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It's not just an old wives tale. Drinking a small glass of warm milk before bed will help you sleep. Dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan which helps to product sleep-inducing chemicals serotonin (which makes you relaxed) & melatonin (which makes you sleepy). Just go easy on how much you drink in one go and choose semi-skimmed or skimmed as too much fatty food before bed isn't a good idea. Also consider yoghurt or a bowl of wholegrain cereal - both are handy ways to get a small helping of dairy in the evening before bed.
One of the few foods that contain naturally occurring melatonin - the hormone that helps us know when to feel awake or sleepy by regulating our circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that drinking a tart cherry juice (avoid sweet ones as sugar at night will get your mind buzzing) can help you to sleep longer. Cherries are also antioxidant rich - another good reason to weave them in to your diet when you can.
Almonds, peanuts, walnuts are all high in magnesium - the mineral which has been found to act as a natural sleep aid. They are also another source of tryptophan - so a double sleep whammy. Nibble a handful as a late night snack or chop and sprinkle on to a bowl of wholegrain cereal. Also try: an almond milk based smoothie or a swipe of peanut butter on wholemeal toast.
Protein rich food also contain tryptophan so if you want something a bit more substantial consider a low fat meat such as turkey (or something like cottage cheese or egg if you are a non-meat eater). Use them as a topping to an open sandwich made with some complex carbs and you'll get a serotonin boost too. A wholemeal bread or Ryvita is ideal. Top tip: Hard boil a few eggs at a time and keep in the fridge to grab when you need a fuss free snack and are short of time.
Carbohydrate rich snacks release insulin which clears the way for sleep-inducing tryptophan to enter the bloodstream and do its thing. Try either an oaty cereal or a small bowl of porridge. Or load up oatcake or two.
Loaded with magnesium & potassium, these natural wonders not only give you a melatonin boost, they also help relax muscles (great for aches and pains). Mashed on toast, whizzed in to a smoothie, or just on its own. It's one of the easiest foods to grab before bed.
WHAT TO AVOID - Anything heavy, fatty or spicy will have your digestive system working overtime all night. Not ideal. - Alcohol will help you fall asleep but will mess with your sleep cycle and short change you of the restorative sleep you really need. It'll also leave you dehydrates. Combined that means you'll wake up feeling rotten. - Cured meat, hard cheese, sugar, aubergines & tomatoes all contain tyramine - an amino acid that stimulates the brain so is a one way ticket to keeping you awake. - Anything with caffeine is an obvious no-no. Steer clear of coffee at least 3hrs before bed (even some de-caf versions have enough caffeine to keep you up at night. Swap your regular tea in favour of herbals (with chamomile being the classic calm down cuppa). Remember that caffeine is also present in chocolate so that's out too. Damn it