There are many things that can contribute to a restless night's sleep; electronics, irregular sleep schedule, stress, anxiety, illness. The list goes on and on, but how does what you eat play in how well you sleep?

While there is no one specific food that will cure your sleepless nights, taking a minute to assess your eating patterns may bring to light some habits that contribute to reduced sleep. Here are some of the heavy hitters:

  • Caffeine: One of the most widely consumed stimulants in the world, caffeine should be stopped at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas and even some medications.
  • Alcohol: While you may fall asleep faster and more deeply for a time, research shows that alcohol disrupts your sleep patterns, especially in the second half of the night. The more you drink, the more noticeable the effects. 1-2 drinks seem to have a minimal effect.
  • Foods that cause heartburn too close to bedtime: What triggers heartburn can be different person to person, but here are some common foods to steer clear of a few hours before bed: caffeinated drinks, alcohol, peppermint, garlic, onions, milk, foods that are fatty, fried, greasy or acidic (like citrus and tomato). If you go eat these foods, wait 1-3 hours before going to bed and try to stay upright to support digestion.

The next logical question: what foods promote sleep?

The research on this topic is VERY young, though promising. Foods high in tryptophan, melatonin and serotonin may help promote sleep, though more research is needed.

  • Tryptophan-containing foods include whole and 2% milk, canned tuna, turkey, chicken, oats, cheese, nuts and seeds
  • Melatonin/Serotonin-containing foods include tart cherries

A key point here though: don't eat these foods or any food right before bed. This can lead not only to heartburn but can also mess with the body's natural circadian rhythm which regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

What else does the research say?

The largest body of evidence clearly points to an overall healthy diet to optimize sleep. An eating pattern that focuses on fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein provides the body with the nutrients needed to create the right environment for your brain and body to sleep.

To learn more, check out these resources.