Foods to help you sleep: recipes from around the world
Isn’t food the best? Food is not merely something we consume in order to stay alive. We use food to bring us pleasure, to help us bond with friends and family, to brighten bad days, to celebrate the good, to create culinary works of art, to make entertaining TV shows where chefs and home cooks battle it out in the kitchen and even to help us sleep better at night.
Anyone who has experienced that post-lunch fatigue set in will know that food can make you sleepy. But did you know that if you choose the foods you eat strategically, you could improve the quality of your sleep?
Today, we are not simply going to give you a list of foods to help you sleep. No, we have looked for some of the best sleep-inducing recipes from around the world. We have an ayurvedic moon milk recipe, a congee recipe that just might change your life, and a little chicken soup for the soul.
Recipes to help you sleep
The perfect recipe for sleep has to tick a few boxes.
Does it contain the right foods to help you sleep? Does it contain an ingredient rich in the amino acid tryptophan, like eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, pork (yay! bacon), fish, lamb, tofu or nuts? Tryptophan helps your body produce melatonin and serotonin, which both help you prepare for sleep.
Does the meal contain carbohydrates? Carbohydrates help you absorb more tryptophan. Tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids for absorption and often loses, but if you eat carbohydrates, it causes your muscles and other cells to absorb more of the other amino acids. Tryptophan now has less competition and is more easily absorbed by your brain.
Does the meal contain magnesium? Magnesium is important for helping the body to relax.
Is the meal delicious? The enjoyable experience of a good (sleep-inducing) meal will help you relax at the end of the day.
Here are some of our favourite sleep-promoting recipes from around the world:
India: moon milk
Go beyond a boring glass of warm milk and try this Ayurvedic moon milk recipe instead. As its name suggests, this recipe truly is out of this world.
Moon milk contains tryptophan-rich milk, carbohydrate-rich honey (which helps your body absorb the tryptophan), and cinnamon, which helps regulate your blood sugar, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night because your blood sugar levels dropped. It is warm, soothing and delicious and is the perfect pre-bed treat. Plus, you will also get some magnesium from the milk.
If you’re in the mood for moon milk, try this easy recipe below:
1 cup milk
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
Honey to taste
In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium, and stir for two to three minutes. Add in your nutmeg and cinnamon and stir until combined. Pour your moon milk into a mug and add honey to taste.
Italy: chicken carbonara with bacon
First of all, who doesn’t love a meal that has the word “carb” in it? It is like the relaxing power of this meal is advertised in the name.
Since chicken, bacon, cheese and yoghurt are all rich in tryptophan, why not choose a dinner containing all these ingredients?
For a low-carb option, you can choose zucchini noodles. You will still get some carbohydrates from the vegetables in this recipe. If you’re down for more carbs, go for pasta. You can also choose a gluten-free pasta if you don’t want the gluten but still want extra carbs.
Here is the recipe:
8 slices of bacon, diced
2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped basil leaves
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup milk
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup plain yoghurt
2 tbsp butter or coconut oil
Spaghetti, gluten-free pasta, or zucchini noodles, cooked
In a pan, fry the onion, garlic and bacon until golden brown in the coconut oil or butter. Add the milk and chicken, reduce heat and leave to simmer for 5 minutes. Next, add in the plain yoghurt and cheese. Once the mixture has reached the desired consistency, dish up and top off with chopped herbs.
Southeast Asia: chicken soup
Having a bowl of soup can be quite relaxing. Not only is the warmth rather soothing (which is why it’s so comforting when you’re feeling ill), but having a bowl of warm soup will also expand your stomach a bit and make you feel full, which causes the body to relax and helps it prepare for sleep.
It is also not too heavy or difficult to digest that it will disturb sleep.
Not only will you get tryptophan from the chicken in the soup, but if the soup is made using bone broth, you will also get the amino acids proline and glycine (which make up collagen).
These amino acids not only help to heal your gut lining and provide you with collagen that can help keep your joints and skin young but having glycine before bed has actually been shown to help people fall asleep easier.
The bone broth used in this recipe is an excellent source of magnesium too.
Try this sleep-promoting chicken soup recipe:
6 cups of chicken bone broth
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups mushrooms, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
3 tbsp. butter, ghee or coconut oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté the garlic and onion in 1 tbsp butter, coconut oil or ghee until soft but firm and set aside. Next, sauté the mushrooms until they are brown and set aside. Finally, sauté the carrots in the remaining butter, coconut oil or ghee until soft, add the celery and the broth and leave until the broth starts to simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, add the rest of the vegetables and the chicken, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Leave to simmer for a few minutes until hot. Serve with chopped parsley and enjoy.
If there was ever a time to eat carbohydrates, it would be before bed. Why? Because eating carbohydrates can help you relax and fall asleep.
If you’ve never heard of congee before, let us introduce you to one of your new go-to meals for when you are feeling under the weather or need help with sleep.
Congee is a rice dish mostly consumed in China by children and those who are ill. The tradition of using congee dates back to the Zhou Dynasty around 1,000BC.
The rice provides both tryptophan and carbohydrates. If you cook it in milk, you will get even more tryptophan and if you use bone broth, you will get a good dose of sleep-promoting glycine.
Congee is also quite easy to digest. A meal that is difficult to digest can make it harder for you to fall and stay asleep. Something that is easy to digest like congee could be a better nighttime option.
While congee itself can be rather bland, you can flavour it using spices and toppings like nuts, goji berries or meat if you make a savoury version.
3/4 cup long-grain rice or jasmine rice
8 cups water (or you can substitute with stock, bone broth or milk)
1 tsp salt
Optional toppings like ginger, minced garlic, shredded chicken, pork, hard-boiled egg, chopped nuts, honey, goji berries and stewed fruit.
Soak the rice in water for 30 minutes before draining and rinsing. Bring the rice and water, broth or milk to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave a small opening to allow some steam to escape.
Leave to simmer and stir occasionally until the mixture has reached a thick and creamy texture, similar to porridge. This could take up to an hour and a half. If your congee becomes too thick at some point, add a bit of boiling water to the mixture.
Add salt to taste, as well as any other toppings you want to add.
Greece: roast mackerel
If inflammatory pain is keeping you up at night, you want to switch to an anti-inflammatory diet, one that includes a lot of omega-3-rich fish like salmon and mackerel.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also support mental health and when consumed frequently over time, can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, which can improve your sleep quality as a result.
Here is a delicious Greek baked fish recipe:
6 mackerel fillets
6 minced garlic cloves
8 tbsp. chopped basil
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 tbsp. lemon juice
4 lemon slices
6 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 220°C. In a bowl, whisk together the garlic, basil, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. Lay down the fish fillets in a casserole dish or on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Next, rub the fillets on both sides with the oil, lemon and herb mixture. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes.
We recommend that you pair the fish with a salad containing tryptophan-rich feta cheese, olives rich in healthy fats and an olive oil vinaigrette.
Even if you can’t travel the world, it doesn’t mean your tastebuds can’t. Try these recipes if you are looking for some new flavours or if you want to optimise your diet to help you sleep better at night.