What to Eat and Drink for a Better Night’s Sleep

Last week we gave you a recipe for a Lavender Cherry Sleepy Tea and we thought it would be fun to do a bit of a deep dive into why that particular tea makes us sleepy, and what other Nature’s pHarmacy® ingredients might have similar effects.

Tart Cherry Juice: Tart cherries are, like their name implies, a different fruit than their sweet cherry counterpart. They are nutritionally dense, and rich in polyphenols like anthocyanin antioxidants which help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. They also contain tryptophan which the body makes into serotonin and melatonin where and as needed. A 2012 study showed that drinking tart cherry juice concentrate can raise melatonin levels in the body, improving both the duration and quality of restorative sleep in healthy adults. A 2018 study examined older insomniac patients who drank tart cherry juice twice daily, and corroborated the increase in sleep time and quality. In that study, the mechanism of action was determined to be more about melatonin produced in the body from tryptophan. Procyanidin B2, an anthocyanin precursor compound found in tart cherries, inhibits the breakdown of tryptophan in the body, making it more available to produce melatonin and serotonin, which help regulate sleep.

Lavender promotes sleep in a different way. A major component of lavender oil is a volatile compound called linalool, which interacts with the GABA receptor in the brain to help calm and decrease anxiety. The scent of lavender essential oil has been recommended for sleep. Most studies on lavender have used either aromatherapy or oral lavender oil; there are not  a lot of specific studies on the use of lavender tea. However, its calming scent and relaxing effects make it useful as an adjunct for sleep.

Chamomile has a long and storied history across cultures for its medicinal use in treating wounds, pain, and rashes, to treating digestive issues, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Tea made from dried chamomile flowers is quite popular, with nearly a million cups per day consumed worldwide. Its sedative effects have been linked to the polyphenol flavonoid, apigenin, and other compounds that bind to benzodiazepine and GABA receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety and produce sleep.

The combination of these three ingredients’ direct effects on the benzodiazepine and GABA receptors and indirect effects on melatonin production work together to help you unwind and transition from daytime to a nighttime of restful slumber.

What other healthy foods and teas may be helpful in winding down for the day?

Bananas are alkaline-forming fruits that contain the minerals magnesium and potassium, which help to relax tired muscles. Magnesium also helps maintain a normal circadian rhythm. In addition, bananas contain vitamin B6 and tryptophan, which are both needed to produce serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan. A small study confirmed that eating a banana before bedtime improved sleep in elderly patients.

Nuts. Magnesium, zinc, tryptophan and B Vitamins are in nuts. A study in Italy found that the combination of magnesium, zinc, and melatonin improved sleep quality and quality of life in elderly patients. Nuts also contain antioxidants that can help protect the brain and body from oxidative stress. A handful of healthy nuts before bedtime may help you to wind down. Always choose organic or biodynamic to avoid any biocide residue.

Kiwifruit is filled with antioxidants and contain the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin in the body. In a recent 2023 study, it was found that eating 2 kiwi an hour before bed improved key measures of sleep and recovery in elite athletes. Another study in patients with sleep disturbances also found improved sleep onset, duration, and efficiency after kiwi ingestion an hour before bedtime.

Organic salmon and fatty fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. In one study, salmon consumption 3 times a week appeared to have a positive effect on overall sleep and daily functioning. The researchers note that both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin. While eating salmon may not make you drowsy, it may help provide the nutrients needed for better overall sleep and daily functioning. Be sure to choose fish that is line-caught and never-frozen. Avoid farmed fish.

Passionflower Tea. Like lavender, passionflower contains a chemical that binds to GABA receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety and promote drowsiness. The flavonoid, chrysin, is the active component. In a 40-person randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study, passionflower tea was found to improve sleep quality.

Check out more bedtime sips here.

More Sleep Tips

While these foods and beverages may be helpful in promoting sleep, we recommend also working to improve your sleep hygiene with these helpful tips:

  1. Wake up at the same time each day, including weekends. This helps set your body clock and will help you feel sleepy and sleep well at night. Let the sun awaken you. Avoid alarm clocks.
  2. Have a personal restorative sleep ritual that includes a 30 minute transition to sleep, including an Epsom salt® and soda bath (maybe with lavender oil), abdominal breathing and mindfulness practice, and stretching, preferably under green dichro light.
  3. Avoid screens before bedtime and remove them completely from the bedroom.
  4. Use room darkening shades to create a comfortable sleep environment. If not possible, consider an eye mask.
  5. Choose quality sheets and pillowcases with natural fibers.
  6. Keep caffeine consumption to the mornings. After lunch, stick with herbal beverages and or water. Leave 2-3 hours between your last meal and bedtime.

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