If you’ve been tossing and turning because of the chaos of back-to-school season—or really, for any reason—good news: There are foods that can help you sleep.
“There is a lot you can do to get more and higher-quality sleep, and when you do, you’ll feel better and have a lot more energy,” says New York City-based registered dietician Stephanie Middleberg. “There are some key nutrients that can help, and some delicious ways to get them.”
Get these nutrients at dinner—and include them in your nighttime snack if you have one, Middleberg says. Keep nighttime snacks small, the equivalent of a cup or the size of your fist, so you go to bed satiated but not stuffed.
Our bodies convert this amino acid (one of the building blocks of protein) into vitamin B6, which helps us create sleep-aiding hormones serotonin and melatonin. “You’ll find tryptophan in turkey, chicken, and eggs, and dairy products like cottage cheese,” Middleberg says.
Get it: With these Easy Turkey Roll-ups, you get tryptophan in the turkey and the cheese, plus some carbs in the tortilla, which can help your body get its serotonin levels up. One roll-up makes a light dinner with a salad, or have ¼ of it as a nighttime snack an hour before bed (wrap and refrigerate the leftovers for another night).
There’s a strong relationship between gut health and sleep, and it works both ways: Poor sleep can negatively affect your microbiome, and an unhealthy microbiome can interrupt sleep. Research suggests that increasing probiotics can improve sleep quality. “Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, yogurt, and kefir are easy ways to get these good ‘bugs,’” Middleberg says.
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Want to make kefir at home? Start with this.
Many adults are deficient in this mineral, which is involved in hundreds of functions in the body. It helps your body manage its stress-response system and regulate mood, and it also supports restful sleep. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts and nut butter, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and—wait for it—chocolate. “I’m pro chocolate,” Middleberg says. “Make sure that it’s at least 70 percent cacao, and keep portions to less than an ounce. Keep in mind that it does have small levels of caffeine, so if you’re sensitive, just be aware that it could impact your sleep.”
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These dark chocolate bars are 70 percent cacao and contain zero percent sugar.
Get it: Have a small portion of this Vanilla Yogurt Pumpkin Seed Parfait—you get tryptophan and probiotics from the yogurt and magnesium from the seeds. Pro tip: Swap dried cherries for the cranberries, Middleberg says.
Related Reading: How to Boost Your Energy without Caffeine
It helps keep your brain sharp, it boosts immunity—and vitamin B6 also affects sleep by helping your body produce melatonin and serotonin. “Chickpeas, wild salmon, turkey or chicken, and bananas are all good sources of B6,” Middleberg says.
Get it: Enjoy these wild salmon cakes with salad for dinner—along with the B6 in the salmon, there are probiotics in the cider vinegar in the dressing.
Okay, technically not a nutrient per se, but both the ritual of a warm cup of tea and some kinds of herbs can help you drift off at night. Chamomile and valerian have both been used since ancient times as natural sleep aids. Or try one of the many bedtime teas available that combine either of these herbs with others, such as warming cinnamon or ginger, or calming passionflower. If it’s the ritual you’re after and not the specific herbs, be sure to choose a tea without caffeine.
Get it: Yogi Bedtime Tea combines valerian, chamomile, passionflower, lavender and other soothing herbs into one calming brew. Or try Traditional Medicinals Organic Nighty Night Tea, with valerian, passionflower, lemon balm, peppermint and more.