1. Sour cherry juice
If you attempt to research foods for poor sleep, then there’s a chance that tart cherry juice will appear at the top of the list, and not without reason. Several small studies looking at the beneficial properties of this beverage have produced noticeably favourable results. Findings of one such study, published in the European Journal of Medicine, indicated that sour cherry juice could have some potential benefits for sleep.
In this double blind, placebo-controlled study, participants found an increase in sleep quality and time spent asleep when drinking a glass of sour cherry juice twice a day. The researchers noticed an increased urinary output of melatonin (the hormone that helps induce sleepiness) in those drinking the cherry juice, and suggested that the high amount of melatonin in sour cherries, in addition to the anti-inflammatory benefits of the red pigment, are how they affect sleep.1
My thoughts: The results of this study do seem quite positive but it is wise to note that the sample size of the trial was small and the effects on sleep modest; so, although it is worth a try, sour cherry juice isn’t to be treated as a magic cure. Sweet cherries contain less melatonin than the sour ones, but some say they could help sleep if you eat about 100 before bed - which I think would cause indigestion and a very disturbed night!
The juice is definitely better, and it is now widely available in health food stores. My personal recommendation would be to try Optima’s Montmorency Sour Cherry Juice which is prepared using high quality Montmorency cherries and is packed with anti-inflammatory nutrients. You should be able to find this juice with our friends over at Jan de Vries.
2. Kiwi Fruit
Sweet and tart, kiwis are chockfull of vitamin C which makes them an extremely popular option when it comes to fruit salads and lunch boxes, but studies have also shown that they could be useful for your sleep too! In this study (which involved quite a number of participants!), the volunteers ate two kiwi fruits one hour before bed for four weeks. The researchers found that there were significant increases in sleep duration, quality and a reduction in time spent getting to sleep.2
Researchers seem to think that this could be related to the high amount of serotonin found in kiwis. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that can be synthesised by the pineal gland to make melatonin, the sleep hormone. However, as some of the scientists involved with the study pointed out, serotonin is not easily absorbed from food as it’s very hard for it to cross the blood-brain barrier. They instead speculate that it could the antioxidant properties of kiwis that are the more likely reason they help with sleep.
My thoughts: Whether it’s their serotonin-boosting properties or antioxidant qualities, either way if you suffer from sleep problems like insomnia, this would seem an easy experiment to try and, at the very least, you’ll be getting plenty of vitamin C! My only real concern here would be eating this fruit so close to your bedtime – ideally you should be avoiding this as it forces your body to be digesting when you should be sleeping.
That’s why I would avoid snacking at least two hours before going to bed! If you’re struggling to think of how to incorporate kiwi fruits into your diet in a natural way then you could try using them in smoothies – just take a look at this recipe for a Kiwi & Ginger Smoothie if you need any more inspiration!
3. Almonds and Goji berries
Okay, so this might be cheating slightly as this technically counts as two entries rather than one, but almonds and goji berries are an excellent combination, together providing plenty of health fats, protein, fibre and antioxidants. Both of these also contain more melatonin per serving (handful) than sour cherries, but there’s very little research to back up their sleep-boosting properties.
There are some smaller, animal-based trials that have been carried out which did produce some positive results concerning almond extract3 and, on the goji berry front, it has been found that goji berry juice could help to improve troubled emotions such as stress while enhancing your quality of sleep.4 If you are planning on trying goji berries and almonds, it might be a nice idea to include some pumpkin seeds too as these contain the amino acid tryptophan, which can be used to produce melatonin and serotonin.
My thoughts: I would approach almonds and goji berries with a similar attitude to sour cherry juice – it may help, but these foods aren’t going to be a miracle cure. At the same time, though, this tasty combination could have a number of potential benefits, not just for your sleep patterns but also for your skin, eyes and immune system too, due to their abundance of antioxidants. I quite like to combine both of these either as a delicious trail mix to snack on or in a creamy almond acai berry bowl!
The humble banana definitely has a lot going for it in terms of nutrition; not only is this creamy fruit a rich source of potassium, mood-boosting magnesium and fibre, it also contains a decent amount of tryptophan too! This combination of nutrients can be very beneficial for your sleep; as I’ve explained, tryptophan is important because it can be used to produce serotonin and melatonin, while magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that can also help to regulate your blood cortisol levels, enabling you to relax.
My thoughts: There’s little substantial evidence to back up banana’s sleep-boosting properties but they are definitely worth trying in my opinion. It also helps that they’re pretty versatile in terms of the ways you eat them – you can chop them up on top of cereal or incorporate them into baked goods. This recipe for Healthy Banana Oat Cookies might be worth considering as this combines the nutrients present in bananas with oats, another source of tryptophan!
Lettuce probably isn’t your favourite snack but, if you can look beyond the watery taste, it’s believed that lettuce could contain a number of sleep-enhancing compounds. The evidence, once again, is a little tenuous but wild lettuce, a non-edible variety, does contain significant amounts of a substance called lacturcarium, which acts as a natural opiate. This is why extract of wild lettuce is sometimes found in herbal sleeping tablets.
This is all very well, but what about the commercial varieties of lettuce that you’ll find in your supermarket? Well, it’s unlikely they contain the same levels but there is some basis in traditional use – lettuce soup and sandwiches are old-fashioned remedies for insomnia. A modern version could be to juice some lettuce before bed or create a lettuce-based smoothie (mixed with other fruits and vegetables, that could be much nicer than it sounds!).
My thoughts: Lettuce definitely isn’t making the top of most people’s list of favourite foods, but this traditional option may just be worth trying. This leafy green salad will never be the star of any dish but that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate it into sandwiches, salads, soups or, as I’ve mentioned, smoothies!
What else will help me sleep?
On the list I’ve included 5 of my top foods to help improve your sleep but this is far from the full picture in terms of diet and sleep. As you can see, the right foods might just make a difference; foods that are rich in antioxidants especially seem to be highly prized as scientists are just starting to link oxidative stress with sleep problems such as insomnia. However, just as eating the right foods can induce positive changes, eating too much of the wrong ones can have negative consequences, which is why I’d highly recommend reading my blog, ‘6 surprising foods to avoid before bedtime.’
In the meantime, if you’re really struggling to drift off, it might be worth trying our Dormeasan tincture. This gentle combination of Valerian and Hops can help to gradually relax your nervous system, making it particularly useful if anxiety is an underlying factor at play. Dormeasan also has the added advantage of not inducing any drowsiness the following day, unlike traditional sleep medicines. Just 30 drops in a little water before bedtime should allow you drift into a deep, natural slumber.
(Original published 20/11/2014, updated 12/02/19)