When you open the cupboards – or hotel mini bar – in search of a midnight snack, it helps to be aware that some foods can bring on insomnia, while others help you sleep more deeply. Luckily, there is scientific research, which I reported on for Forbes, to show that certain foods release the hormones that send us off to slumberland. So choose carefully! Here are five foods proven to help you drift off:
Carbohydrate-rich foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels, triggering the body’s production of insulin to bring them back down. This is why you often feel a burst of energy in the first few minutes after eating carbs, then a “crash” of tiredness. At night, this sleepiness can be very useful, making toast the perfect midnight snack. Along with insulin comes a release of tryptophan and serotonin, two relaxing brain chemicals that send you peacefully to slumberland.
Like toast, a bowl of oatmeal triggers a rise in blood sugar, which in turn triggers insulin production and the release of sleep-inducing brain chemicals. Oats are also rich in melatonin, which many people take as a sleep aid.
Cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep. Fresh cherries, dried cherries, and cherry juice (especially tart cherry juice, which contains less sugar) are thus wonderful sleep aids. Researchers who tested tart cherries and found high lev
els of melatonin recommend eating them an hour before bedtime or before a trip when you want to sleep on the plane.
Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants, and bananas are a good source of both. They also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which gets converted to 5-HTP in the brain. The 5-HTP in turn is converted to serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter) and melatonin.
5. Warm milk
Like bananas, milk contains the amino acid L-tryptophan, which turns to 5-HTP and releases relaxing serotonin. It’s also high in calcium, which promotes sleep.