Cottage cheese is a classic American staple, but it’s connected to getting a good night’s sleep. There are many theories around how eating cottage cheese before bed can help you sleep better.
Due to its tryptophan content, eating cottage cheese is believed to help you sleep better. It can extend and improve your non-REM sleep, which is the first 30 to 60 minutes of your sleep cycle. To get a full night’s rest, it’s advisable to eat cottage cheese and foods rich in carbohydrates.
The bridge linking cottage cheese to better sleep has only been built halfway. On its own, cottage cheese isn’t enough to help you sleep better. When supplemented with another kind of food, it may enable you to sleep more quickly.
Does Cottage Cheese Before Bed Help You Sleep?
The reason it’s believed that cottage cheese can help you sleep better is its tryptophan content.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that promotes the production of a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is known colloquially as the sleep hormone because it’s produced and released into the bloodstream exclusively at night.
A healthy amount of melatonin in the bloodstream greatly improves sleep quality. However, too much causes prolonged drowsiness and a disrupted circadian rhythm.
The problem with this belief is that cottage cheese doesn’t contain enough tryptophan to promote melatonin production.
For tryptophan to affect hormone production, it would have to pass through the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a cell shield that prevents toxic substances in the bloodstream from reaching the brain.
Tryptophan has difficulty passing through the blood-brain barrier in the presence of other amino acids. Considering that cottage cheese contains all the essential amino acids (protein, leucine, cystine, etc.), it’s difficult for tryptophan to affect a person’s melatonin.
A substantial amount of cottage cheese would have to be consumed to produce enough melatonin for a good night’s sleep.
How Much Cottage Cheese Do I Eat Before Bed?
The amount of cottage cheese you eat has a minor effect on the quality of your sleep.
The tryptophan content in an average serving of cottage cheese has little effect on melatonin production. Nobody wants to eat multiple bowls of cottage cheese before bed. So, the best way to make the most of your cheese supply is by coupling it with carb-rich foods.
Certain foods have a reputation for making people drowsy. Aside from cottage cheese, turkey and milk are also known to make people sleepy.
However, the real cause of postprandial somnolence (food coma or food drowsiness) isn’t turkey or dairy products. It’s the other carb-rich foods you eat them with.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, carbohydrates with a high glycemic index increase tryptophan plasma in healthy adults. Most people don’t eat cottage cheese on its own.
This popular dessert ingredient is often paired with bread (white and wholewheat), oatmeal, sugar, pineapples, and yogurt, which are all high on the glycemic index scale.
According to Sydney University, meals with a high glycemic index shorten sleep onset. Sleep onset is the time it takes for a person to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
It’s no wonder people gravitate toward their bed after eating a big cottage cheese dessert. Cottage cheese itself has a low glycemic index, but when paired with carbs, it’s bound to knock you right out.
What Does Cottage Cheese Do Before Bed?
When eaten with another carb-rich food, cottage cheese can shorten the time it takes for you to fall asleep. It can also improve the first phase of your sleep cycle. With that said, too much tryptophan in your bloodstream could negatively affect your REM sleep.
According to The Journal of Medical Food, tryptophan improves sleep by:
- Inducing sedative effects
- Prolonging sleep duration
- Shortening sleep onset
- Minimizing anxiety
Along with carb-rich foods, a good helping of cottage cheese for dinner could set you up for a very relaxing first hour of sleep. The problem lies in how the rest of your night goes.
Many studies highlight how tryptophan helps people sleep, but they don’t mention how the amino acid only affects non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is the first stage of the sleep cycle, and it lasts 30-60 minutes.
A study published in Brain Research explains how tryptophan reduces REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is deep sleep. During this phase in the sleep cycle, we dream, regulate our mood, and memorize important things we learned during the day.
Both REM sleep and non-REM sleep are important for our development, mood, and health. The goal should be to improve the length and quality of your overall cycle, never sacrificing one phase for the other. So, what does this mean for you if you’re looking towards cottage cheese to improve your sleep?
The only way to know if eating cottage cheese reduces or improves your sleep quality is to experiment. The effectiveness of tryptophan is dependent on your:
- Hormone levels
- How resistant you are to insulin
- Whether or not you have any sleeping disorders
It’s best to monitor your sleep cycle once you do start eating cottage cheese before bed to understand how such a routine affects you personally.
Home sleep trackers can give you a rough idea of your sleep cycle. However, for an accurate assessment, go to a sleep clinic for a polysomnography.
How Long Before Bed Should I Eat Cottage Cheese?
There are no set rules when it comes to eating before bed.
The consensus among doctors and nutritionists is that your last meal should be 3 hours before bed. This is so that you avoid experiencing an upset stomach when you’re supposed to be asleep. Eating 3 hours before bed gives you enough time to digest your food properly.
However, like many things related to health and nutrition, it all depends on the person. If you frequently eat late and know that it doesn’t hinder your ability to fall asleep, you can eat cottage cheese right before bed without a problem.
If you want to know when the effects of eating cottage cheese kick in, again, it depends. Everybody has a different digestive system and body chemistry that processes the amino acids in cottage cheese.
There are too many variables to consider when assessing the effects, so adding in processing time makes it too difficult to measure things properly.
Greek Yogurt vs. Cottage Cheese Before Bed
Greek yogurt does little to help people sleep compared to cottage cheese, but it might be a good alternative. Whether or not you should eat Greek yogurt over cottage cheese highly depends on your goals and lifestyle.
Greek yogurt has replaced cottage cheese over the last few years because both dairy products have extremely similar nutritional value.
If you check the table below, you’ll see that the differences between the two products are minor:
|Nutritional Content (100 grams)||Cottage Cheese||Greek Yogurt|
High protein is associated with better sleep quality. As you can see above, the difference in protein and carb content between cottage cheese and Greek yogurt is minimal. You can use both interchangeably to fulfill your daily recommended protein and carb intake.
Greek yogurt has slightly fewer calories than cottage cheese does. If you’re looking to improve your sleep but are also counting calories and macros for a diet, you may want to go with Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is also recommended if you need a dessert with less fat.
The main difference between the two dairy products is the tryptophan content. Because tryptophan content in a small amount of cottage cheese isn’t enough to affect sleep quality, you would have to eat it with carb-rich foods.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, you may be thinking of eating Greek yogurt before bed. If you do, understand that it won’t affect your sleep quality all that much unless.
Low Fat Cottage Cheese Before Bed
There is no notable difference between low-fat cottage cheese and regular cottage cheese when helping people sleep. Low fat cottage cheese has 138mg per 100 grams worth of tryptophan, while regular cottage cheese has 147mg.
You can use low-fat cottage cheese and regular cottage cheese if you want to ingest a good amount of tryptophan before bed. Low fat cottage cheese has much less fat, of course, so it’s a good option for those who want to stick to a low-fat diet.
How Much Cottage Cheese Should I Eat Per Day?
According to the University of Texas, the recommended daily tryptophan intake for an adult is 250 to 425mg per day. With that said, most adults see an intake of 900mg to 1 gram daily.
When choosing to eat cottage cheese to aid sleep, note what the rest of your diet looks like. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is widely available in all sorts of foods, such as:
- Egg whites
Exceeding the recommended daily limit of tryptophan may disrupt your REM sleep cycle.
This may sound confusing, but many sources specify dosages of 1-2 grams of tryptophan can help cure insomnia. When referring to tryptophan this way, it’s important to distinguish between natural tryptophan and supplemental tryptophan.
Tryptophan can be bought as a supplement and is recommended by doctors to treat various conditions, both physical and neurological. Natural tryptophan can be found in food.
Pure tryptophan and natural tryptophan behave differently in your body because one comes with multiple other amino acids and macronutrients, while the other doesn’t.
You could eat enough cottage cheese every night to ingest 1-2 grams of tryptophan, but it isn’t guaranteed to help as much as the supplements.
That’s because a dairy product is different from a supplement capsule. When talking about natural sleep aids, the other kinds of macronutrients you ingest throughout the day affect the outcome.