Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Louise Carter
Cottage cheese is believed to help people sleep better due to its tryptophan content.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that promotes the production of melatonin. It’s called the sleep hormone because it’s produced and released into the bloodstream at night.
A healthy amount of melatonin in the bloodstream improves sleep quality. However, too much melatonin causes prolonged drowsiness and a disrupted circadian rhythm.
Cottage cheese doesn’t contain enough tryptophan to promote melatonin production.
Tryptophan must pass through the blood-brain barrier to affect hormone production. This cell shield 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.
Since cottage cheese contains all the essential amino acids (protein, leucine, cystine, etc.), tryptophan can’t affect a person’s melatonin levels unless combined with carbohydrates.
How Much Cottage Cheese Do I Eat Before Bed?
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 most effective way to consume it is by pairing it with carb-rich foods.
Certain foods have a reputation for making people drowsy. Aside from cottage cheese, turkey and milk make people sleepy.
The cause of postprandial somnolence (food coma or food drowsiness) isn’t turkey or dairy products but the other carb-rich foods you eat with them.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, carbohydrates with a high glycemic index increase tryptophan plasma in healthy adults.
Cottage cheese is often paired with bread (white and wholewheat), oatmeal, sugar, pineapples, and yogurt, all of which are at the higher end of the glycemic index scale.
According to Sydney University, meals with a high glycemic index shorten the onset of sleep. This is the time it takes to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
That’s why people go to bed after eating a cottage cheese dessert. Cottage cheese has a low glycemic index but will make you sleepy when paired with carbs.
What Does Cottage Cheese Do Before Bed?
When eaten with another carb-rich food, cottage cheese can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and improve the first phase of your sleep cycle.
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 helping of cottage cheese for dinner could set you up for a 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 amino acids only affect non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is the first stage of the sleep cycle, lasting for 30-60 minutes.
A study 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 essential things we learned during the day.
REM and non-REM sleep are vital for our development, mood, and health.
The goal is to improve the length and quality of your sleep cycle, never sacrificing one phase for the other. What does this mean if you want cottage cheese to enhance your sleep?
Experimentation is the only way to know if cottage cheese reduces or improves sleep quality. The effectiveness of tryptophan is dependent on your:
- Hormone levels.
- Overall health.
- How resistant you are to insulin.
- Whether you have sleeping disorders.
Monitor your sleep cycle once you start eating cottage cheese before bed to understand how the routine affects you personally.
Home sleep trackers can give you an approximate idea of your sleep cycle. For an accurate assessment, go to a sleep clinic for polysomnography.
How Long Before Bed Should I Eat Cottage Cheese?
Doctors and nutritionists agree that your last meal should be 3 hours before bed so that you don’t experience 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, it depends on the individual. If you frequently eat late and know it doesn’t hinder your ability to fall asleep, you can eat cottage cheese before bed without a problem.
The effects of eating cottage cheese are person-specific. We all have different digestive systems and body chemistry that process the amino acids in cottage cheese.
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 you should eat Greek yogurt depends on your goals and lifestyle.
Greek yogurt has replaced cottage cheese over the last few years because dairy products have similar nutritional value. The differences between the two products are minimal:
|Nutritional Content (100 grams)
High protein is associated with better sleep quality.
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 less fat and fewer calories than cottage cheese. If you want to improve your sleep but are also counting calories and macros for a diet, you may want to go with Greek yogurt.
The main difference is the tryptophan content. Because tryptophan content in a small amount of cottage cheese isn’t sufficient to affect sleep quality, you would have to eat it with carb-rich foods.
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese Before Bed
There’s little difference between low-fat and regular cottage cheese for sleep. Low-fat cottage cheese has 138mg of tryptophan per 100 grams, while regular cottage cheese has 147mg.
You can use low-fat and regular cottage cheese to get enough tryptophan before bed.
How Much Cottage Cheese Should I Eat Per Day?
According to the University of Texas, the recommended daily tryptophan intake for adults is 250 to 425 mg. However, most adults consume 900 mg to 1 gram daily.
When eating cottage cheese to aid sleep, note what the rest of your diet looks like. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many foods, including:
- 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 and supplemental tryptophan.
Tryptophan can be bought as a supplement and is recommended by doctors for various physical and neurological conditions. Natural tryptophan can be found in food.
Pure and natural tryptophan behave differently in the body because one is accompanied by multiple other amino acids and macronutrients, while the other isn’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 supplements.