That being said, many of us could use a little help catching Zs. And while there are plenty of sleep-boosting over-the-counter supplements, in the form of pills and gummies on the market, there is a much more delicious (and natural) alternative well-worth a try: a pre-bedtime smoothie made with ingredients that help improve sleep quality.
“When it comes to sleep aids, food should be your number one go-to,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. Largeman-Roth’s idea of a sleep-inducing smoothie is one that boosts serotonin, which she describes as “the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps you relax and feel calm.” In brain chemistry, serotonin is the chemical precursor to melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. You can also get melatonin from a smoothie, which Largeman-Roth considers better than supplementing. “You can become acclimated to melatonin supplements, meaning that you will have to take more and more to get the same effect, as opposed to getting natural sources of melatonin from your diet,” Largeman-Roth says.
Of course, when reaching for a smoothie or any other midnight snack to promote sleep, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in. This is why Largeman-Roth emphasizes staying away from ingredients—like chocolate, caffeinated tea, or flavored yogurt made with added sugar, for example—that are stimulating and can keep you awake. And while the right smoothie can help you sleep better, it is not a substitute for good sleep hygiene, says Largeman-Roth. (So yes, you should still ditch your screens and try to give yourself a solid seven to eight hours.)
Timing is also key, not only because it’ll give your system time to absorb all the nutrients in the ingredients, but also because you’re going to need to empty your bladder after drinking a smoothie for optimal sleep. “If you’re going to have this sleep-boosting smoothie before bed, I would recommend drinking it an hour before,” says Largeman-Roth.
Ready to learn more about Largeman-Roth’s natural serotonin- and melatonin-infused sleep-boosting smoothie recipe? Read on for ingredients and how to make it.
The right ingredients for a sleep-boosting smoothie recipe
Largeman-Roth recommends starting your nighttime smoothie with a yogurt base. It can be dairy or plant-based. What you’re after are the probiotics—the microorganisms found in yogurt that are believed to be good for gut health. According to Largeman-Roth, probiotics “may help trigger the release of serotonin.”
2. Milk and rolled oats
Next, you’ll want to add some sort of milk. While any plant-based or regular milk will do, Largeman-Roth is partial to oat milk because of its creaminess. Oat milk also works well with another ingredient in her recipe: rolled oats, which contain tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts to serotonin. Largeman-Roth also recommends adding rolled oats because they are filling and will therefore satisfy any late-night hunger pangs, which can keep you awake.
“Oats are a great source of carbohydrates,” Largeman-Roth says. “They’re slow burning, and they also have fibre. So if you’re one of those people who gets really hungry right before bed, that’s a great reason to include oats.”
Largeman-Roth is also a fan of adding walnuts to a sleep-friendly smoothie because they are a natural source of melatonin. And walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fat that the body cannot make on its own but is crucial for cell health. “All of us in the health and wellness world know that we’re not getting enough omega-3s, so that’s another reason to add them to this smoothie. They also work really well with the oats flavor-wise,” she says.
4. Grapes (or tart cherries)
Largeman-Roth’s sleep-boosting smoothie recipe calls for two types of fruit: grapes and a small-sized banana. Grapes are naturally sweet, she says, and are a source of melatonin. Tart cherries are another fruit that contains melatonin, though for this recipe, Largeman-Roth prefers the flavor of the grapes (but if you’re partial to cherries, go ahead and swap them out). Grapes are also hydrating, and they may have some skincare perks. “With grapes, you’re getting an additional skin because they’ve been found to help reduce the effects of UV exposure on the skin,” says Largeman-Roth.
Like rolled oats, bananas contain tryptophan. Plus, they are also a potent source of potassium, an essential mineral. A potassium deficiency can lead to leg cramping at night, which is a common complaint during pregnancy. Largeman-Roth recommends using a frozen banana, which will enhance the texture of the smoothie. “Bananas always, always, always help to make your smoothie feel like a smoothie,” she says.
The best sleep-boosting smoothie recipe, according to a dietitian
Makes 2 servings
1 5.3-ounce yogurt
1 cup grapes
1/2 rolled oats
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup oat milk
1 small banana, frozen
Combine all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into two glasses and serve.
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