Are you feeling tired? Having insomnia means that you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, a problem that can be short-term or chronic. Insomnia symptoms impact about one-third of the adult population and the prevalence is higher in older adults. Are you or someone you care about part of this statistic?
It is crucial to get to the root cause of insomnia since lack of sleep negatively impacts health. A disrupted circadian cycle puts you at risk for depression, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.
More immediately, an insomnia-induced sleep deficiency can make it challenging to survive the workweek. Your career and social life may suffer if you can’t stay awake during the day. Constant exhaustion can make life feel miserable and lead to irritability, forgetfulness, and concentration problems.
If you are struggling with insomnia, or know someone who has this condition, we’ve got some excellent information for you. This article will cover the following topics:
- What are some reasons that you might have insomnia
- What are the foods and beverages that may help with insomnia?
- Which foods or drinks worsen disturbed sleep patterns?
- Are there ways to lessen insomnia that doesn’t involve food?
Don’t assume that you qualify for a formal diagnosis of insomnia just because you feel tired during the day. The average adult is not getting enough sleep, and many may not have a true sleep disorder. Keep reading for some self-care tips to improve your ability to get some shut-eye, whether you have insomnia or not.
There are many reasons you might have insomnia; get to the root cause first
If you are having difficulty sleeping, it could be due to insomnia, another sleep disorder, or another medical condition entirely. If you make diet changes without seeing your doctor, you might miss learning the true cause of your sleepless nights. Insomnia that is caused by something else (i.e., secondary insomnia) may be treated differently than primary insomnia.
Many underlying conditions may result in the outward symptom of sleep disruption. You could have issues such as (from the CDC):
- Sleep apnea (there is a higher risk for this if you are overweight)
- Restless legs syndrome
- Chronic stress
- Chronic pain
- Other previously undetected conditions or illnesses
Always consult with your physician if you are struggling with insomnia. If your insomnia is due to stimulant medication, you may be able to get the prescription changed. If pain from a medical issue is keeping you up at night, your doctor is in the best position to help.
Sometimes insomnia and the other sleep disorders mentioned above are treated with medication. Other times, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be what’s best, particularly when the insomnia is linked to anxiety.
Getting aid from a medical professional is the best way to ensure that you receive the treatment you need. Food is not medicine in all cases for all conditions.
Consume these foods and beverages and give yourself a good night’s rest
Like so many things in nutrition, there is no one food or foods that will help everyone with insomnia. Keeping a food record and sleep journal may help uncover an association between certain foods and your sleeping difficulties. Be sure to log eating times in addition to the types of foods eaten.
Here are some foods and beverages that promote good health and may help you to feel well-rested:
Dehydration can make you feel tired and run down. Make sure to consume adequate fluids during the day to meet your individual hydration needs. The amount of water you need depends on factors such as your activity level, your body size, and the temperature.
Just don’t try to drink most of your fluids for the day right before bedtime. You may end up having to run to the restroom in the middle of the night. Space your fluid intake throughout the day.
Eating large, high-fat meals close to bedtime may lead to heartburn that can keep you up at night. High-fat foods take longer to empty from the stomach, so go for lean proteins, particularly later in the evening.
Wondering which foods count as lean proteins? Some great choices are skinless poultry, beans, and many types of seafood. If you want red meat, choose cuts marked “loin” or “round.”
Non-caffeinated herbal tea:
A small randomized controlled pilot study from 2019 found that herbal tea may help reduce insomnia symptoms. This study used herbs common to traditional Chinese medicine that may be difficult to obtain where you live.
However, enjoying a warm cup of unsweetened herbal tea before bed is a practice that many find soothing. How about a cup of chamomile or lavender tea? Though chamomile lacks conclusive evidence, it doesn’t hurt to try it, and it is another way to improve your hydration.
Fruits and vegetables:
A study from 2019 found that those following the DASH diet were less likely to have insomnia. If you read our article on the DASH diet, you know that this diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. The fruit and the vegetable-rich Mediterranean diet is also associated with fewer insomnia symptoms.
Wondering which fruits and veggies are the best choices? Choose a wide variety of produce items that you like the best. If you do not like kale, or any other single vegetable or fruit, you do not have to eat it.
However, if you do not like all vegetables, now is an excellent time to try and expand your palate. Keep experimenting with different fruits and veggies and varied cooking methods until you find some that you enjoy. It is far more important to eat a variety of foods rather than focus on one particular “magical” food.
Each fruit and vegetable give you differing amounts of essential nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals. The best way to reap the maximum benefit from these foods and increase your diet quality is to eat many types. What are some of your favorite fruits and veggies?
Tart cherry juice:
A 2018 randomized pilot study found that Montmorency tart cherry juice helped to improve insomnia symptoms in older adults. The mechanisms of how cherry juice worked are not fully understood. It is thought to be due to the procyanidin B-2 content.
Tart cherry juice also contains melatonin, a supplement that may provide a small benefit to insomnia, as I’ll discuss below. However, the amount of melatonin supplied by the cherry juice is beneath the recommended therapeutic dose. Thus, other components in the cherry’s food matrix do seem to be playing a role.
The best way to support your body nutritionally for a good night’s rest is to eat a balanced diet. Minor nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling worn down. Eating a variety of foods from the different food groups is the easiest way to meet your essential nutrient needs.
Many articles online will focus on a single food that you should eat to help you sleep. These articles often have minimal scientific backing, though the foods they recommend tend to be healthful options. As mentioned at the top of this section, no one food is guaranteed to help you sleep.
Focusing on increasing the intake of a single food may come at the expense of other nutrient-rich foods. If you wind up with a minor nutrient deficiency as a result, this can make your sleep issues worse.
On the other hand, there are some things that you should limit in your diet that may improve your sleep. There are no downsides to reducing these components, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try. Keep reading to find out what they are; I’ll cover them in the next section.
Banish these beverages (at least at night), and you’ll sleep better
Having a drink in the evening, whether coffee or alcohol, may be preventing you from getting a restful night of sleep. Eliminating both caffeine and alcohol for 3-4 hours before bedtime may make it easier for you to catch some shut-eye.
The recommended limit for caffeine for non-pregnant adults is 400 mg per day. This amount equals approximately 4-5 cups of coffee. Keep in mind that caffeine impacts each person a little differently and that you may do better with less.
Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, you may still be consuming a significant amount of caffeine from other sources. Teas, chocolate, soda, and certain medications may all contain caffeine. Read the labels to make sure these products are not keeping you up at night.
You do not need to include alcohol in your diet at all to be healthy. If you do choose to drink, the recommendation is no more than one drink per day for adult women. Adult men are permitted up to two drinks per day.
You should not save all of your daily allowed alcohol and caffeine until the end of the week. If you don’t use them, you lose them.
The best ways to kick your insomnia to the curb may not involve food at all
Some of the very best remedies to get a better night’s sleep don’t involve food at all. Get into the habit of practicing good sleep hygiene, including going to bed at the same time each night. Routine sleeping habits with consistent sleep and wake times may help you with your sleep problems.
Set the right environment, and you’re more likely to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of restorative rest. Dim the lights at night and reduce your exposure to artificial light before bedtime. Keeping your room dark, cool, and quiet can increase melatonin secretion, which may help you to sleep.
Make sure to get adequate exposure to light when it is time to get up in the morning. This act can aid in synchronizing your circadian rhythm, letting your body know it is time to wake.
Relaxation training is a recommended therapy for chronic insomnia. The goal of relaxation training is to reduce both physical and psychological tensions that interfere with sleep. These tensions can include things like muscle tension and also intrusive thoughts.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website is the best place to learn about evidence-based therapeutic supplements. Melatonin may provide a small beneficial effect if you have insomnia, but never start supplementing without consulting with your physician. “The evidence for other complementary approaches [regarding sleep disorders] is either inconsistent or too limited to draw conclusions.”
Physical activity is another factor that can help to synchronize your sleep cycle, helping you to mitigate insomnia. Exercise is terrific for many other reasons too, including making it easier for you to maintain a healthy weight. Fitting some physical activity into your day is a great way to invest in your health.
There are other evidence-based therapeutic options for insomnia as well, including sleep restriction and biofeedback. Multicomponent therapies (using multiple intervention strategies) may also be used. These therapies are beyond the scope of this article; consult your physician if you feel these approaches may benefit you.
Final Thoughts on Insomnia
Though nutrition is an essential component of total wellness, it is not the only factor that can improve health. Taking care of your body by getting enough sleep is also critical in helping you to be your best.
In today’s hectic world, it can feel like a sacrifice to take the time we need to get adequate sleep. It may seem easier to look for a quick-fix in food while continuing to deprive ourselves of the rest we really need.
Do you stay up late in the evening, watching videos or scouring social media? Are you reading this article late at night when many in your time zone have already gone to bed? If you are, why not take the first step towards healthier sleep habits right now?
If it is late where you are, consider shutting off your computer or phone and getting into bed. There is no time like the present to start taking steps towards better health. Sweet dreams!
Summer is a registered dietitian located in Avon, Connecticut where she specializes in weight management, special diets, general nutrition, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). She is the developer and content creator behind the Summer Yule Nutrition website, where she shares evidence-based information on hot topics in food and nutrition.