A lack of shut-eye can lead to such health problems as an expanding waistline, high blood pressure and an altered mood.
Trouble sleeping? You're not alone. More than 50 million Americans have trouble sleeping. Tossing and turning is frustrating, and the lack of shut-eye can lead to such health problems as an expanding waistline, high blood pressure and an altered mood. "Lack of sleep is a unique stress that induces a chronic stress response in the body," says Shawn Talbott, nutritional biochemist, exercise physiologist and author of "The Secret of Vigor: How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Metabolic Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy." Typically overlooked, one way to improve sleep is through diet: Just choose foods that can help you get more rest. Here are 12 foods that will help you fall (and stay) asleep.
Can't sleep? Eat a banana, says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. They're high in potassium, which may calm restless legs and help prevent nighttime leg cramps. Plus, bananas also provide magnesium, which helps relax muscles and nerves and promotes healthy circulation and digestion, according to Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep." Peel and eat a banana or make a smoothie. Just cut it up and blend it with your favorite type of milk and ice.
Related: 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas
Planning for a good night's rest can start with a sleep-friendly dinner, says clinical psychologist Michael Breus. A good main course is salmon because it offers a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce surges of stress hormones and promote restfulness, according to the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine. Not a fan of salmon? Other fish, such as halibut, also provide the benefits of omega-3. Plus, these fish contain vitamin B-6, which is needed to make the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
3. Tart Cherry Juice
Before insomnia strikes, have a drink. No, not alcohol, which can actually disrupt sleep patterns. Instead, try cherry juice. A 2010 Journal of Medicinal Food study, conducted on older adults, suggests that a glass of tart cherry juice, a natural source of melatonin, may significantly reduce insomnia. Intrigued? Try this treat tonight, says clinical psychologist Michael Breus: Combine tart cherry juice, soy milk (or almond milk) and ice, then blend. "It's the perfect bedtime snack." If tart cherry juice isn't available, try dried cherries (or fresh ones if they are in season).
Ubiquitous cruciferous kale may help put you to sleep, says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. Kale is high in potassium and calcium, both of which have sleep-inducing properties. If you don't want to crunch on kale right before bed, include it in a salad as part of your evening meal. It's never too early in the day to start planning for a good night's sleep. If kale isn't your thing, opt for another dark, leafy green like Swiss chard or spinach, which also contain plenty of potassium.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, which relaxes muscles and nerves and aids circulation and digestion, says clinical psychologist Michael Breus. They're great baked, but you can also whip up some homemade sweet potato fries or find them in the frozen section of most grocery stores (baking them is the healthiest option, of course). In addition to potassium, sweet potatoes are a good source of carbs, but "half of a sweet potato will give you enough of both," says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. Other good sources of potassium include regular potatoes (for baked, keep the skin on), lima beans and papaya.
Related: Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe
Almonds contain magnesium and can help ease you into a better night's sleep. They also provide protein, which can help you maintain a stable blood sugar level while you're sleeping. Clinical psychologist Michael Breus suggests snacking on a handful of almonds before bed. Or if you crave something more substantial, smooth some almond butter onto a slice of whole-grain toast.
Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a good source of vitamin B-6, which your body uses to produce serotonin, a mood elevator and stress buster, says clinical psychologist Michael Breus. The vitamin also helps synthesize melatonin, your body's main sleep hormone. Breus recommends eating chickpeas during the dinner hour to help promote sleep later. Try adding garbanzo beans to a healthy salad, but plan ahead, he advises: "The high levels of protein in beans can give you gas, which can disrupt your sleep."
Related: 10 Foods That Help You Sleep
Does a late-night egg "over easy" sound appealing? It may be just the thing to help you sleep through the night. Eggs are a high-protein snack that can help keep your blood sugar levels stable so you can sleep through the night. Enjoy an egg or two with a carbohydrate-rich food like whole-grain toast. Adding carbs allows the tryptophan from the protein to be more readily available.
Does milk really help you sleep better? Some experts are on the fence due to lack of conclusive scientific studies. Others swear by the power of calcium, since it plays a direct role in the production of melatonin, which helps to maintain your body's 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Prefer soy milk to cow's milk? That's even better, says clinical psychologist Michael Breus. A 2011 study published in Menopause Journal suggests soy products may help insomnia in menopausal women. "You'd have to drink a gallon and a half of warm milk to promote sleep. Soy products have been known to make people fall asleep faster and deeper," says Breus. If you choose soy milk and are concerned about GMOs, look for an organic brand.
Related: Which Type of Milk (or Nondairy Milk) Is Best? The PROs and CONs of 9 Different Kinds
A small bowl of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal can be a healthy snack that sets the stage for sleep, says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests trying a carb-protein combo, such as whole-grain cereal and milk. According to the NSF, carbs in cereal make tryptophan (an amino acid that causes sleepiness) more available to the brain. And the protein found in milk is actually a building block of tryptophan. Other carb-protein pairings Talbott suggests include peanut butter on toast or cheese and crackers.
Related: Top 10 Healthiest Cereals
11. Herbal Tea or Decaffeinated Green Tea
Experts say most varieties of decaf tea will encourage drowsiness. Green tea contains theanine, which may promote sleep, and nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott also extolls the relaxing effects from a blend of chamomile tea. In study results Talbott presented at the Experimental Biology Scientific Conference in April 2014, researchers found that the tea decreased the time needed to fall asleep and increased total sleep duration, minutes of deep sleep and total sleep quality. Fix yourself a cup of tea before bed. In addition to the sleep-inducing components of the tea, the warmth of the hot cup is sure to get you feeling drowsy.
A bowl of nice, warm oatmeal sounds comforting before bed, doesn't it? Well, it also packs plenty of calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which may help make you fall asleep more quickly -- not to mention that a deficiency in magnesium may make it more difficult to stay in slumber. Just go easy on the sugar -- too much before bed can have the opposite effect.
What Do YOU Think?
What helps you fall asleep? What do you eat before bed? Some foods and drinks (such as wine, for example) can make you feel sleepy at first, but later interrupt your rest. Leave a comment below and let us know what works best for you.
Related: 10 Surprising Steps to a Good Night's Sleep