‘We are what we eat’ – nearly everyone has heard this statement. In fact, it’s science-backed that diet does impact almost all aspects of human well-being, helping determine our physical, mental, and emotional conditions, and impacting fitness levels.
It goes without saying that our eating habits can boost or decrease our body’s energy resources, but they can also affect the quality of our night’s sleep, scientists say. The disappointing statistic that every third adult American suffers from symptoms of insomnia makes it obvious that there is no one single cure that can guarantee good sleep; the sleeping process is complicated and includes several factors based on the overall lifestyle you lead. Diet is multifaceted and cumulative depending on what (and how much) you have been eating for months and even years.
But there’s no need to feel hopeless about your chances of getting a good night’s sleep! Establishing consistent everyday habits, like sticking to an active lifestyle, ensuring regular exposure to sunlight, spending time in nature, choosing unprocessed vegetables and fruits and other foods in your diet, and keeping your body hydrated will help. Plus, there are some basic ground rules you can set for yourself to prepare for a solid night’s rest: limit caffeine, refined sugar, spicy foods, and alcohol intake late in the afternoon, and have your evening meal at least two hours before your bedtime.
There are also several sleep-inducing foods that may help you reduce the risk of sleep disruptions and get more hours of quality sleep!
Scientists say that many chemicals, amino acids, enzymes, nutrients, and hormones work together to regulate the body’s sleep cycle and promote better sleep. The leading players are tryptophan, melatonin, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, and others, and incorporating foods with high concentrations of these elements into your meal plan may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Here are our Top Ten:
1. Fatty fish
Researchers believe that fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut may promote better sleep by providing you with doses of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. These two nutrients are involved in the regulation of the body’s serotonin system, which is responsible for establishing a fixed sleeping and waking cycle. Also, fish is abundant with Vitamin B6 which helps produce melatonin – the hormone that indicates to your brain when it’s time to head to bed.
Fatty fish are also high in a few other sleep-promoting nutrients, like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and folate.
One study showed that people who ate 300 g of Atlantic salmon three times per week for 6 months had better overall sleep as well as improved daytime functioning than those who ate chicken, beef, or pork with the same nutritional value.
2. White rice
One study showed that eating foods with a high glycemic index (such as white rice) around four hours before bedtime can help you with falling asleep as it gives you a natural increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn, makes it easier for the tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, to reach the brain. A study of adults in Japan found that those who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles.
Please note though that not all carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods have the same effect! For example, one study tied confectionary and sugary beverages to worse sleep.
3. Milk and dairy
Many people link a glass of warm milk before bedtime with the improvement of sleeplessness, which is actually not just a relaxing nighttime ritual but a science-backed fact. Milk and dairy products such as cheese or yogurt contain several sleep-promoting compounds: they are rich in melatonin so they are useful in providing a natural source of the sleep-producing hormone, and calcium that helps our body regulate and better use tryptophan, as well as relaxes muscles and relieves stress.
4. Almonds and walnuts
Nuts like almonds and walnuts are considered to be good for sleep as they are enriched with melatonin and essential for our body processes minerals magnesium and calcium. The combination of those three may help combat insomnia, according to the study. Melatonin regulates your internal body clock, magnesium boosts your serotonin levels, and calcium helps to relax the nervous system. Nuts are also a healthy evening snack, as they are high in good fats and low in sugar and saturated fats.
Bananas contain a powerful combination of vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium, all of which are known for their roles in promoting better sleep. Vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, and is needed to create the melatonin that increases the feeling of relaxation, potassium keeps you asleep throughout the night, and magnesium is a natural sedative.
According to one study, people who ate two kiwi one hour before bedtime for four weeks fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer than those who did not. Researchers related such positive changes to kiwi’s antioxidant features, improvement of folate deficiencies, and relatively high concentration of sleep-promoting compounds, including serotonin, melatonin, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
7. Tart cherries
According to one study, people who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day had higher sleep efficiency. These benefits may come from the fact that tart cherries contain above-average concentrations of different sleep-regulating compounds: melatonin, tryptophan, potassium, and serotonin. Some researchers consider that antioxidants in tart cherries called polyphenols may also influence sleep regulation.
It’s also just generally healthy to snack on tart cherries because they are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Did you know that romaine lettuce can make you sleepy? Scientists consider that most of lettuce’s sedative effects are due to the plant’s n-butanol fraction that may lead to the increase of sleep duration and decrease of sleep latency. The study says that lettuce is able to protect cells against inflammation and damage resulting from stress caused by sleep distractions.
9. Chamomile tea
Chamomile is a common remedy for insomnia; researchers link its sleep-inducing properties to the herb’s flavonoid compound called apigenin that helps activate sleep-stimulating processes. According to one study, a warm cup of chamomile tea can be a soothing pre-bedtime ritual with quantifiable benefits.
Our brain’s main source of energy is glucose, so when we eat a teaspoon of honey before bed we fuel up our brain to repair itself while we sleep. Glucose also lowers levels of orexin that make our brain more alert, so it may help us relax before going to bed. Last but not least, honey’s sugar slightly raises insulin levels, allowing tryptophan to enter the brain, which helps create serotonin and then produce melatonin, two essential hormones for sleep.
Please note that none of the foods above constitute medical advice or replace seeing your medical provider.
The starting point to achieving consistent quality sleep is to review your current sleep hygiene practices! Re-consider your overall daytime and pre-bed routines, and then try incorporating these “sleepy” foods to your diet. Then, they’ll naturally complement the positive changes you’re making and help to boost your overall sleep quality.
Related: Four Proven Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
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