For many folks, getting restful sleep is top of mind—especially at 2 a.m. as they wrestle with the bedsheets to find a comfortable position to drift into a slumber. (Speaking from personal experience, this can be incredibly frustrating.)
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. Given this stat, it’s no secret that many of us are constantly on the hunt for ways to achieve better sleep. Although the solution for sleepless nights is not a one-size-fits-all matter, research suggests that some foods can help you drift into a state of relaxation. Namely, oatmeal: it’s rich in melatonin and just might be the before-bed snack we’ve been dreaming about all along. We spoke with a registered dietitian who shared why you should consider noshing on a bowl of oatmeal before hitting the hay (and not just first thing in the day).
Why eating oatmeal can help you get better sleep
According to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, oats are a rich source of melatonin—a critical hormone for achieving better sleep. “Its primary function is to regulate circadian rhythms and sleep; melatonin signals that sleep time is approaching, helping us to fall asleep,” Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN, a behavioral sleep specialist, previously shared with Well+Good.
Although you may be accustomed to melatonin in the form of a supplement, oats are a great food-based source that helps the body produce the hormone naturally. “While the quantities of melatonin can vary based on factors like the environment the oats are grown in, eating it may fuel the body with some melatonin,” Manaker says. To further reap the benefits of oats, she recommends combining them with other melatonin-producing ingredients, like nuts.
While Manaker notes that not every person will benefit from consuming more melatonin, it can certainly help most. But if melatonin hasn’t helped you in the past, she reassures us that it’s not all a lost cause. “If the melatonin doesn’t help, the magnesium boost that people can get from this dish may offer some sleepytime benefits,” she says. This is because oats are packed with melatonin and magnesium—two sleep-boosting superstars. According to the USDA, there are about 276 grams of magnesium per cup of oats, which can have a calming effect on the nervous system, improving the likelihood that you’ll fall and stay asleep.
Oats are packed with melatonin and magnesium—two sleep-boosting superstars. According to the USDA, there are about 276 grams of magnesium per cup of oats, which can have a calming effect on the nervous system, improving the likelihood that you’ll fall and stay asleep.
Plus, Manaker suggests being mindful of how much sweetener you add to your favorite oatmeal recipe to avoid disrupting your chances of getting some precious sleep. “Just be sure not to add too much sugar—or any sugar—to your oats before bedtime,” Manaker says since research shows that higher sugar intake can lead to poor sleep quality.
3 oatmeal recipes packed with melatonin to help you get better sleep
1. Sweet Potato Pie Oatmeal
This sweet potato pie oatmeal recipe by Minimalist Baker is what dreams are made of (literally). It combines a few of our favorite sleepytime foods in one dish, thanks to ingredients like pecans, sweet potato, and, of course, oats. Best of all, per every serving of this oatmeal recipe, you’ll get about eight grams of fiber, one of the “big three” nutrients for boosting sleep quality.
Get the recipe: Sweet Potato Pie Oatmeal
2. Savory Sesame Oatmeal
Want a healthy dinner that costs only $1.25 to make? Look no further: This savory sesame oatmeal recipe by Budget Bytes is exactly what you need. The vegetarian dish is packed with nutrient-rich ingredients, including garlic, mushrooms, spinach, and oats, and is the perfect solution for those that don’t want to eat a bowl of super-sweet oatmeal at the end of the day. And although savory oatmeal recipes have been around for ages in many cultures, it’s been taking social media by storm as of late as one of the best RD-approved ways to get more gut-healthy fiber that supports a robust microbiome.
Get the recipe: Savory Sesame Oatmeal
3. Baked Apple Oatmeal
Tender apples, smoky cinnamon, and rich, creamy oats are a few of the pantry staple ingredients you need to make this hearty baked apple oatmeal recipe by Simple Veganista. It’s naturally sweetened with maple syrup and packed with fiber-rich and potassium-filled bananas. What’s more, this simple recipe has two of the top antioxidant-rich spices—cinnamon, and nutmeg—that help fight inflammation one bite at a time.
Get the recipe: Baked Apple Oatmeal
An easy, warming chai-baked oatmeal recipe for your weekly meal prep routine: