What should I eat for a good night's sleep?

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1. Trouble sleeping?

One third of us suffer from insomnia at some stage in our lives, and most of us have mild trouble sleeping from time to time. Whether you're struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep or both, many factors play a role. These include stress, distracting environments and the food you eat.

Have you ever wondered why some foods and drinks make you sleepy while others give you an energy boost? Does cheese give you nightmares? Can warm milk help you sleep? We separate the facts from the fiction and show how tweaking your diet can help you slow down in the evening and sleep soundly throughout the night.

2. Carbs v protein

Should we consume carbs or protein for a good night's sleep? The answer seems to be both.

Tuck yourself in with tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid that's believed to induce sleep. This is because it is a precursor to the sleep-inducing chemicals serotonin and melatonin, in the brain. Tryptophan is present in small amounts in most protein foods and in higher amounts in yoghurt, milk, oats, bananas, dates, poultry, eggs and peanuts.

For tryptophan to be effective, it has to cross the blood-brain barrier (the brain's security system). To do this it has to compete with other amino acids. Research suggests that combining tryptophan-rich foods with carbohydrates gives tryptophan an advantage. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, which helps to clear other amino acids from the bloodstream and helps tryptophan reach the brain.

More research is needed in this area, and the amount of tryptophan in foods is still relatively small and may only have a modest effect.

3. The truth about 'sleepy' drinks

Click or tap on the image below to find out if certain drinks can send you to sleep.

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4. When should you eat?

Reset your body clock

Recent research suggests that the time of day you eat may affect your sleep. We all have an internal body clock that tracks the time of day and, it seems, a ‘feeding clock’ that tracks meal times.

The research shows that when a mouse eats at irregular times its body clock gets out of sync. When food is limited, the feeding clock overrides the body clock, keeping the mouse awake until it locates food. Studies with mice are not necessarily indicative of humans, but it is interesting to note that sleep patterns may be affected by eating patterns.

Get into routine

Sleep is all about routine. Forming regular eating patterns will make it easier to fall asleep in the evening. It is a good idea to eat dinner four hours before going to sleep and establish a ritual such as drinking a sleepy tea before bed.

Are you a lark or an owl?

Research suggests that whether you're a morning or an evening person is determined by your sleep chronotype. The time of day you eat is predictive of your sleep chronotype: larks almost always eat breakfast within half an hour of waking, whereas owls are more likely to skip breakfast and eat late in the evenings.

5. What foods and drinks steal sleep?

Click or tap on the image below to see what foods can disrupt sleep.

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6. Is your diet sleep-friendly?

Are you eating the right things and at the right times? Click below to find out.

Breakfast

What's the best breakfast and when should you eat it?

Breakfast

Fibre-filled porridge

Try eating breakfast at the same time every day. A recent study shows a high-fibre diet helps improve sleep quality, so porridge is a good breakfast option.

Dinner

When should you eat dinner and how much is too much?

Dinner

A balanced meal

Eat dinner early, preferably four hours before bedtime. A good mix of carbs and protein is beneficial and smaller portions mean you won't go to bed too full.

Night-time snack

Should you snack in the evening and what are the best foods?

Night-time snack

A small snack

Don't go to bed hungry or too full. Have a small snack, such as crackers and peanut butter, a banana or a little bowl of cereal.