Quality sleep is elusive for nearly one-third of Americans. If you sleep less than 7 hours a night, you’re short on sleep and probably feeling the immediate effects like difficulty focusing and feeling tired during the day. Over time, lack of sleep can have negative health consequences for the heart, immune system, mental health, and metabolism.
The connection between sleep and diet is strong, and when one area is falling short of meeting our needs, the other is sure to suffer. With poor sleep, we make more impulsive food choices and are more likely to opt for high-sugar, high-fat foods that are lacking many of the nutrients we need daily. On the flip side, if a diet is lacking essential nutrients needed to help the body perform well, then sleep disturbances can occur.
The good news is that by choosing foods that contain certain sleep-beneficial nutrients, it’s possible to improve sleep health! I discuss 50 different foods to enjoy more of in my book, Eat To Sleep: What To Eat & When To Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep, and as you flip through the pages, you’ll find several dairy foods included. That’s because dairy foods like yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese contain several nutrients that play a role in sleep, including tryptophan, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc.
Research has shown that diets low in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that we must get from food, can lead to low levels of serotonin, a happy neurotransmitter that is later converted to melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone. Tryptophan is necessary for good sleep, but so are vitamin B6 and magnesium which help in the process of converting serotonin to melatonin. And we can find all 3 of these in dairy foods!
For a more restful night of sleep, fill your day with 3 servings of dairy foods, and add in some of my other go-to sleep foods. Starting with breakfast, enjoy Greek yogurt with strawberries and a slice of whole wheat bread with avocado, or try this recipe for Blueberry Flax Overnight Oats. At lunch, enjoy a salad or sandwich paired with a serving of cottage cheese and crackers. If you need a good bedtime snack, try a glass of milk paired with a banana to give you those sleep-beneficial nutrients, plus the fiber, protein, and fat we need to keep blood sugars stable and our belly happy through a night of great sleep!
Karman Meyer is a professional speaker, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and author of ‘Eat To Sleep: What To Eat & When To Eat It for a Good Night’s Sleep’ (2019) and ‘The Everything DASH Diet Meal Prep Cookbook’ (2023). Karman is the host of the PBS Special, Eat To Sleep, and has been featured in publications such as Bon Appetit, Shape Magazine, and FoodNetwork.com. She works with businesses to engage employees in wellness events and workshops to build healthier, more resilient individuals through her company NourishWell Network.