How you eat affects so many of parts of your life, but did you ever wonder how it might influence your sleep quality and patterns? We know all about sleeping clean (thanks to health queen Gwyneth Paltrow) and how using screens at night can throw off our sleep patterns, but it turns out that what and when you eat can also have a major impact on your shut-eye. We chatted with a couple of experts to find out what food choices will help us get a good night鈥檚 sleep.

What You Eat Before Bed聽Matters

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You might not think about how your last meal of the day affects your sleep, but nutritional biochemist and author Shawn Talbott, PhD, gave us the deets: 鈥淒iet can be extremely important for sleep quality. Eating the wrong things can interfere with our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get good quality sleep.鈥 On the other hand, eating the right things during the day and before bed can actually improve the quality of our sleep. Dr.聽Nada聽Milosavljevic, a Harvard-trained physician with expertise in both traditional and integrative medicine, agrees. 鈥淲hat you eat or drink hours before sleep can create breakdown products that impact and stimulate the brain to impede sleep,鈥 she explains.

What to Skip聽at Bedtime

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Dr. Milosavljevic recommends staying away from foods high in protein or fat and anything caffeinated before you turn in. 鈥淟et鈥檚 say you eat a high-protein food before sleep,鈥 she offers. 鈥淚t takes a lot of digestive power to break down that food, and your digestive juices are activated. Your GI tract requires energy and is fully engaged in the process, which requires blood flow to be directed to that part of the body.鈥 When she puts it like that, it makes total sense that it鈥檚 tougher to fall asleep when your body is working hard to digest what you just ate.

Talbott points out that stimulants can also have a bigger impact than we might expect. 鈥淢any find it surprising that stimulants (like caffeine and nicotine) can stay in your system for up to eight hours, depending on the person and the amount,鈥 he shares. So if you鈥檙e having trouble falling asleep despite the late hour, the culprit could be your afternoon latte. Other things to stay away from? Spicy foods can cause your stomach to secrete acid, which in turn can cause heartburn and acid reflux, making it hard to get comfortable enough to drift off. It鈥檚 also not a great idea to eat a lot just before turning in: Talbott recommends putting a two-to-three-hour window between your last big meal and your bedtime. 鈥淓ating too much can put pressure on the diaphragm, making it difficult for some people to inhale and exhale fully,鈥 he explains. 鈥淭he lack of oxygen makes it difficult to relax and fall asleep, and it may make nighttime awakenings more common.鈥

Foods That Can聽Actually Help You Sleep Better

Having breakfast

Just because you shouldn鈥檛 eat dinner right before bed doesn鈥檛 mean you can鈥檛 have a snack. (Yay for snacks!) 鈥淚 actually LIKE people to eat something before bed,鈥 Talbott clarifies 鈥 just not a *huge,* meal-sized amount of food. Eating the right kind of snack can help you 鈥渞elax, fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and get into the deeper stages of restorative sleep.鈥 His go-to pre-bedtime snack is an oatmeal cookie, a handful of cherries, and a glass of milk or herbal tea.

鈥淭he oatmeal and cherries help the body to make more of its own melatonin as needed,鈥 Talbot explains, 鈥渁nd they both also contain just enough sugar 鈥 about 10 to 20 grams, or 40 to 80 calories 鈥 to help the brain relax.鈥 The small dose of sugar can help enhance the entry of tryptophan into your brain (you know, that sleepy amino acid you always hear about around Thanksgiving). As for milk, it contains a protein chain that helps you feel more relaxed. We knew that whole thing about having a glass of milk before bed wasn鈥檛 totally bunk! Lastly, herbal teas like chamomile, lavender, and lemon can help relax you, though Talbott points out they鈥檙e not powerful enough to put you to sleep on their own.

If you don鈥檛 love the idea of this particular snack, Talbott鈥檚 suggested alternatives are fruit-sweetened yogurt with granola, cheese and crackers, or bananas and dark chocolate. Next time you鈥檙e wondering what you can nosh before bed that won鈥檛 mess with your REM cycles, give one of these options a try!

Do you have a go-to bedtime snack? Tell us what it is @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)