Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
We all know how important a healthy and varied diet is for our general health and overall well being. Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables provides the nutrients that keep our body functioning at an optimal level and ensures good health for years to come. But have you heard that it’s possible to eat foods to help you sleep as well? That’s right! Not only can you eat to keep yourself active, but there are also things you can eat or drink to help you fall asleep too.
Perhaps one of the oldest forms of sleep aids is a cup of warm milk. You remember this scenario, right? Being a little kid, having trouble falling asleep, and your parent comes to tuck you in with a warm glass of milk? While the effects of warm milk may be mostly psychological in nature, that has effectiveness in itself. After all, it is your brain you’re trying to remind yourself to go to sleep, so anything that will help the cause is useful. For many, a glass of warm milk is a reminder of a childhood routine, and those thoughts may be comforting. Having a glass of warm milk nightly may also be part of good sleep hygiene, as it helps you to establish a routine. Do it enough times, and your brain will start learning that warming up that glass means it’s time for it to switch off. In that same vein, a mug of warm tea (herbal, of course) can have a similar effect.
An updated version of this ritual is a newfangled drink called Moon Milk. This apparently magical drink, captioned on social media with the hashtag #sleepytime, is hailed as the latest miracle sleep aid. Moon Milk (sometimes called Golden Milk) is a common drink in India, where it’s called Haldi Doodhwhich literally means turmeric milk in Hindi. In the Ayurveda tradition, this concoction is used to help treat those with difficulty falling asleep with a combination of spices that help produce calming hormones. One of the main ingredients is ashwagandha, an herb that’s becoming more and more familiar to the Western world. Also called Indian ginseng, it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and relaxing effects. There have even been clinical trials that have shown it can potentially reduce anxiety, stress, and fatigue–all things necessary for a good sleep.
Beyond being part of a simple, healthy routine, foods like bananas and almonds contain magnesium and potassium. Magnesium has been shown to increase the neurotransmitter GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that helps slow your thinking and helps you fall asleep. Potassium helps to relax your muscles so they can stop thinking they need to run a race, and instead calm you down so you can go to sleep.
Not only can you eat to keep yourself awake and healthy, you can also eat (and drink) so you can get the sleep your body needs.