Although the causes of insomnia can include everything from anxiety and worrying to joint pain and other physical illnesses, what you eat and drink before bedtime may also be contributing to your poor sleep.
Here's our guide to both sleep-inducing and sleep-disrupting foods.
5 foods and drinks that make you snooze
Jasmine rice: Eating sticky Thai jasmine rice four hours before bedtime resulted in a significant reduction in sleep latency (the time it to takes to fall asleep) in one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The people who ate jasmine rice were compared with a group given rice with a lower glycaemic (GI) index which released energy at a slower rate. The second group took longer to fall asleep suggesting high GI carbohydrates may aid sleep.
Dairy: Milky drinks, cheese and yogurt all contain the amino acid tryptophan, which the body needs to make serotonin and melatonin, two hormones needed for sleep. Try winding down with a milky drink before bed, but avoid adding anything caffeinated such as coffee as that will keep you awake. Cheese and biscuits as a light pre-bedtime snack is a good option as the cheese contains tryptophan and the crackers contain high GI carbohydrates.
Chamomile tea: If your sleepless nights are down to anxiety and worry, try a soothing cup of chamomile tea – a traditional herbal remedy for promoting relaxation and relieving anxiety that has a mild sedative effect. Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit character was given a teaspoon of chamomile tea by his mother when she put him to bed after a busy day. But if you need some more convincing evidence of its sleep-inducing effects, one study of cardiac patients who needed a catheter inserted, found those who drink chamomile tea fell into a deep 90-minute sleep before the procedure.
Cherries: Tart cherry juice has produced statistically significant improvements in insomnia (judged by the number of minutes awake after sleep onset) in a study of older adults with sleep problems, although further studies are needed. Experts are unsure exactly how cherries can induce sleep, but they do contain high levels of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Lettuce: Include some salad leaves in your evening meal if you want a good night's sleep. Lactuca Sativa or garden lettuce has long had a folklore reputation for its soporific qualities. A recent trial in people who suffered from insomnia found that taking lettuce seed oil improved their sleep quality. The authors said more research was needed though.
5 foods and drinks that wreck your sleep
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant and remains in your body for four to six hours, so if you drink a lot of tea, coffee, cola or high energy drinks this may be what is keeping you awake at night. One study conducted in Detroit found a 400mg dose of caffeine taken six hours before bedtime could disrupt sleep and the authors recommended people should stop drinking it six hours before bedtime. Switch to de-caffeinated coffee and herbal teas to reduce your caffeine consumption.
Alcohol: People talk about having 'night caps' as if a brandy or whisky shot will guarantee them a good night's sleep. In fact, the opposite is true – whilst alcohol will relax you initially it interferes with your sleep pattern so you spend less time in deep sleep and more time in the less restful Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This means you'll wake up feeling tired. To avoid alcohol affecting your sleep try not to drink too close to bedtime – your body needs around an hour to process one unit.
Spicy food: A late night dinner at a curry house could spell a night of disturbed sleep. One study found that even adding tabasco sauce and mustard to an evening meal disturbed sleep in healthy young men. Scientists found spices elevated body temperature in the first sleep cycle.
Fatty late night meals: Eating a heavy fatty meal (think burgers and chips, kebabs and pizzas) close to bedtime could affect your sleep. One study found higher food intake closer to bedtime was associated with negative sleep patterns in healthy people. Eating high fat and carbohydrate foods preceding the sleeping period was associated with taking longer to get to sleep.
Chocolate: People tend to forget that chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant that can keep you awake, so lay off the cookies with your bedtime drink and try and resist chocolate bars as an afternoon snack. Dark chocolate (although healthier as it contains less sugar and has more antioxidants) has a higher caffeine intake than milk chocolate.
Supplements to aid sleep
Valerian is used as a dietary supplement primarily to ease insomnia. In the UK, it's available as Valerian SleepAid, a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) remedy to aid sleep problems caused by mild anxiety and relieve sleep disturbance. Licensed THR products have had the quality of ingredients assessed and have been in traditional use for at least 30 years.
5-HTP is an amino acid available as a supplement found to increase the production of serotonin and melatonin, the hormone which helps regulate sleep and anxiety.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.