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Foods that promote sleep: what to choose (or avoid) to sleep

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Foods that promote sleep: what to choose (or avoid) to sleep

diSilvia Turin

A large percentage of the world‘s population suffers from poor sleep quality and disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea. In addition to the advice of specialists, you can also intervene by taking care of your diet. that’s how

Many people have problems with sleep: awakenings, difficult nights, snoring, insomnia. Beyond specific problems, which can be addressed with experts, a good night can also be helped (or not) by nutrition.


The general rule is good digestion, because the metabolism of the foods we consume is linked to the production of those neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) which promote relaxation and sleep. Stomach not too full (especially with fat) and not too empty (being hungry keeps the senses alert) and the green light above all for foods containing tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of serotonin, which together with melatonin has a calming action.

Healthy diets for sleep

Overall healthier eating patterns are associated with better sleep quality and fewer insomnia symptoms. These include the Mediterranean diet and anti-inflammatory diets.
Erica Jansen’s team, Nutritionist at the University of Michigan, recently demonstrated this with two studies: in one they monitored sleep duration via questionnaires collected in the USA between 2011 and 2016 (using a representative data set) with which found that people who adhered to national dietary recommendations (such as consuming enough servings of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains) slept more. In the second, they enrolled 1,000 young adults aged between 21 and 30 and asked them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables for a period of three months: they ultimately reported a better quality of sleep and a reduction in symptoms of ‘insomnia.

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Favorite foods

What are the foods to prefer then? Fruit and vegetables: lettuce, for example, rich in water, vitamins and mineral salts, is a calming vegetable, recommended in the evening meal (even cooked); apricots, peaches, apples and bananas. Apricot is the calming fruit par excellence thanks to potassium, bromine and vitamin B. Some spices, such as basil, marjoram and oregano, also have a relaxing effect and herbal teas based on chamomile, lemon balm, mallow and hawthorn. Milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of tryptophan, which is why grandparents’ habit of drinking milk in the evening helps you fall asleep. However, be careful with mature cheeses: immediately available proteins, fats and calcium contrast with the chemical mechanisms of relaxation. Oats and barley are preferable cereals, perhaps the former with milk and the latter in a minestrone soup.

To be avoided

As written, there are foods that are heavy to digest and do not help you sleep: first of all those full of salt, because its effect on fluid retention prevents relaxation, then fatty ones (fried and processed foods). No to dried fruit (excellent in the morning) and no to coffee, energy drinks and chocolate: caffeine is a nervous system stimulant, even if tolerance is an individual matter.
Alcohol deserves a separate discussion because it is often mistakenly believed to promote sleep: in reality it promotes falling asleep, but then the following sleep will be fragmented and less deep.

The advices

Finally, pay attention to meal times: it is better to eat dinner two or three hours before going to bed. The other tips are related to what is called “sleep hygiene”: reducing exposure to light and creating a comfortable and relaxing environment, moving away from the lights of digital screens, creating a routine before bedtime and maintaining the same sleep and wake times.

February 28, 2024

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