Two of the most important things we need to sustain life are food and sleep. We need to eat. We need to sleep. But when does food interfere with sleeping?

First, a little basic science.

Proteins are the building blocks of tryptophan, an essential amino acid in our diet that our body uses for many things. Tryptophan helps to create the hormones melatonin and serotonin, both of which help us to relax and sleep. When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, the tryptophan contained in them is more available for our brain to use.

When we eat foods that are high in protein without eating a carbohydrate as well, our bodies produce tyrosine, which stimulates our brain, making it more difficult to sleep.

So the ideal bedtime snack is one that contains higher levels of carbohydrates and calcium with medium-to-low levels of protein. When you’re planning a bedtime snack, keep in mind that it takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach your brain and work its magic. If you really need a snack, try to eat it at least an hour before bedtime. Click here for a couple of (sleepy) recipe ideas.

But wait. It’s not time for bed yet and you’re trying to decide what to eat for dinner. As with your bedtime snack, opt for a meal that combines protein with carbohydrates. See below for some recipe ideas.

What you eat has quite an effect on how you sleep later on. The goal is to calm yourself rather than stimulate yourself – so when there’s a choice, pick foods that contribute to helping you sleep.


Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients cookies

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) chunky peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) liquid honey
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
  • 3 cups (750 mL) whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt


In bowl, beat together peanut butter, honey, sugar and butter until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; gradually stir into peanut butter mixture. (Batter can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)

Drop by tablespoonful (15 mL), about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, onto greased rimless baking sheets; using tines of fork, gently flatten in crisscross pattern to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. (Can be frozen on baking sheets until firm, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Do not thaw before baking; add 1 minute to baking time.)

Bake in top and bottom thirds of 375°F (190°C) oven, switching pans halfway through, for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 50 cookies.

Banana Bran Muffins

Muffins aren’t just for breakfast! Enjoy half of one of these muffins as a bedtime snack. Bananas contain magnesium, which will help you relax, and walnuts help stabilize fluctuations in our blood sugar, which can interrupt sleep.

Ingredients Banana Bran Muffin

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) mashed ripe bananas (2 medium)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
  • 1 cup (250 mL) unprocessed wheat bran
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Whisk eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in bananas, buttermilk, wheat bran, oil and vanilla.

Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add wet ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups (they’ll be quite full). Sprinkle with walnuts, if using.

Bake muffins until tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Makes 12 muffins.

Lemony Chicken and Ricotta Pasta

Ingredients Gourmet chicken dinner

  • 4 cups (1 L) penne pasta (about 12 oz/375 g)
  • 12 oz (340 g) chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
  • 3 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup (250 mL) light ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) grated lemon rind
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) pepper
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 4 cups (1 L) packed trimmed shredded spinach


In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but firm. Drain and return to pot, reserving 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, cut chicken breasts crosswise into slices. In non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat; brown chicken, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add reserved cooking liquid, ricotta cheese, half of the Parmesan cheese, the lemon rind and juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg; bring to simmer.

Add spinach; stir until wilted. Add to pasta and toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with remaining Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.

Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad

This easy-to-make tuna and bean salad dinner is loaded with protein and fibre, and can be enjoyed even if dinner is a little late tonight. Tuna contains high levels of tryptophan, and beans are slow-burning carbohydrates that help produce more serotonin.

Ingredients Salade

  • One 15- to 19-ounce (426–539 g) can beans, such as chickpeas, black-eyed peas or kidney beans, rinsed
  • Two 5- to 6-ounce (142–170 g) cans water-packed chunk light tuna, drained and flaked
  • 1 large red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) capers, rinsed
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) lemon juice, divided
  • 4 tablespoons (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 (1 mL) teaspoon salt
  • 8 cups (2 L) mixed salad greens


Combine beans, tuna, bell pepper, onion, parsley, capers, rosemary, 1/4 cup (50 mL) lemon juice and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) oil in a medium bowl. Season with pepper. Combine remaining 1/4 cup (50 mL) lemon juice, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) oil and salt in a large bowl. Add salad greens; toss to coat. Divide greens among 4 plates. Top each with tuna salad.

Serves 4.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Canadian Living’s website