Have trouble getting to bed or staying asleep? You’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in four American adults get less than the daily recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. That insufficient shuteye is leaving them more at risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity.
But don’t reach for that bottle of NyQuil. Luckily, you can improve your sleep by simply changing up your diet. When you can’t snooze, reach for these eats:
When it comes to sleep-inducing fare, people often think of the Thanksgiving favorite turkey. But gamier meat like elk, goose, goat and rabbit are your best bet for promoting zzzs, as these options contain even more of turkey’s key sleep ingredient, the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan can help you catch more shuteye because it contains the calming hormone serotonin, but elk, for example, contains three times as much of the ingredient as turkey.
How to enjoy: Try mixing your favorite gamey meat with a complex carb like brown rice to help better ferry tryptophan to the brain.
2. Garbanzo beans
Not into gamey meat? Garbanzo beans are also a great source of tryptophan. As a plus, they’re easier to find in your local grocery store — just head to the canned foods aisle.
How to enjoy: For a bedtime snack, dig into some homemade or store-bought hummus with crudité or whole-wheat crackers.
3. Tart cherries
Tart cherries offer a natural source of melatonin, a hormone responsible for the sleep-wake cycle in humans. An easy way to get them year-round is by picking up a bottle of tart cherry juice, as research shows the benefits are the same as eating the whole fruit. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that subjects who drank tart cherry juice for seven days slept longer and better compared to those who didn’t.
How to enjoy: Aim for an 8-ounce glass daily, and steer clear of varieties with added sugar.
4. Pumpkin seeds
Next Halloween, salvage those seeds from your jack o’ lantern, as they’re proven to help you clock more snooze time. Pumpkin seeds contain the vital mineral magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, among other benefits.
How to enjoy: Whip up a salad with arugula, low-fat goat cheese and salt-free pumpkin seeds for a sleep-friendly dinner.
One of the least expensive and most accessible types of fish can also help you snooze more soundly. A 100-gram portion of tuna contains 1 milligram of vitamin B6, which helps convert tryptophan into serotonin — that aforementioned calming hormone that can aid sleep regulation.
How to enjoy: Combine chopped celery and carrot sticks with low-fat mayonnaise, lemon juice and canned tuna in water. Spread the mixture onto whole-wheat crackers, and voila, you have an afternoon or midnight snack that can help you wake up feeling more refreshed.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.