What You’re Eating Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

You might have heard of melatonin in supplement form. The hormone is produced naturally in our bodies as a response to periods of darkness. It aids with maintaining sleep and circadian rhythms—the 24-hour internal clock that dictates our physical, mental, and behavioral cycles. Melatonin is readily available in our food, says Karman Meyer, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the author of Eat to Sleep. Tart cherries are a natural source; one 2017 study (funded by industry advocate Cherry Marketing Institute) found that participants who drank tart cherry juice every morning and evening for two weeks slept for 84 minutes longer than normal. And while tart cherries can be hard to come by, pistachios, oily fish, eggs, and milk also contain melatonin.

People struggling with sleep should also “eat tryptophan-rich foods” like chicken, pumpkin seeds, tuna, and turkey, says Dana Bufalino, a board certified health and wellness coach specializing in nutrition. The essential amino acid is a building block for melatonin, and studies have shown it does increase sleepiness and the ability to fall asleep faster. Unlike melatonin, though, it can’t be produced naturally and must be obtained through diet. ​​

Go easy on the caffeine.

While caffeine is considered a stimulant, it’s “not actually providing your body with energy,” says Meyer. During the day, a chemical called adenosine naturally builds up in our bodies, which eventually causes sleepiness. Caffeine boosts wakefulness by blocking our adenosine receptors and preventing us from feeling tired. When that morning Joe wears off, the adenosine comes rushing back and we crash, says Meyer.

Only, consume too much caffeine during the day and it might not wear off fast enough for restful night’s sleep. While the exact times will vary individually, Meyer says it can take 10 to 12 hours from consumption before the caffeine is “completely out of your body.” Though some people can seemingly handle caffeine late into the day, Bufalino’s rule of thumb is to avoid stimulants of all kinds after 2:00 p.m., which includes sugar, coffee, tea, and cocoa.

From frothy matcha lattes to roasted barley blends, you’ve got options.

Booze mindfully.

You might want to reconsider that nightly drink if you’re having a hard time sleeping, say Bufalino and Moore. Studies have long shown that alcohol affects sleep. Initially, the sedative effects tend to improve relaxation and make it easier to drift off, but during the second half of the night, disturbances occur in the body as liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol. If you do drink, stick to one or two glasses. And Bufalino suggests curbing consumption around three hours before bedtime so your body has time to process the booze.

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