From Thanksgiving turkey to a warm glass of milk before bed, there’s no shortage of foods that can supposedly put you to sleep, and recent research seems to show a very real connection between food and sleep.
“There’s growing evidence to show that typically the foods that we eat and actually the food that we don’t eat can affect our sleep,” says Joby Quiambao, a dietetic intern at Public Health Sudbury and Districts.
Quiambao points to a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition that found tart cherries could be an effective sleep aid. That’s because they’re rich in melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
Melatonin is also the reason a warm glass of milk is not just an old wives tale. Quiambao says dairy products like milk contain tryptophan, which also helps with melatonin production.
But tart cherries and warm milk won’t necessarily help everyone.
“What [the study] found…is the ability for our bodies to absorb it is very individual,” Quiambao says. “Not everyone can absorb the benefits of melatonin to have great sleep all around.”
Other foods can have a negative effect on sleep, Quiambao says. Although caffeine is an obvious culprit, it’s not the only thing that can keep you from getting a good night’s rest.
“There are certain foods that have, say for example, saturated animal fats like the fatty fried foods and foods that have lower fibre content, that could drive lower sleep quality. So less time in that deep, restorative sleep.”
Quiambao says how you sleep can also affect what you eat, with one study showing that people who have less sleep are more likely to choose “snacky foods” instead of balanced meals.
She adds that the best way to ensure you’re sleeping well is to have a healthy balanced diet, that includes three meals a day with some light snacking in between.
“When we look at all the research out there and people suggesting certain foods, what we’re finding is that it’s that overall picture.”