Sleep is so important for our bodies, but sometimes, it eludes us. Regular good sleep can boost the immune system, prevent weight gain, improve memory, and even increase productivity. If you’re struggling to get enough zzz’s, adding specific foods to your diet may help.
Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many lean proteins. It increases serotonin levels, prompting our bodies to produce more melatonin, the main hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Rather than supplementing with melatonin pills, try introducing more lean protein into your diet to provide the relaxation needed for deep sleep. Chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs contain tryptophan. Plant-based sources are leafy greens, sunflower seeds, and mushrooms.
Superfoods such as whole grain pasta and cereal, brown rice, and beans, may help induce sleep. Loaded with vitamin B6 and melatonin, these foods can reduce stress and relax the body. They also increase tryptophan production within the body, leading to a good night’s rest.
The jury is still out on why chamomile tea is a traditional remedy for sleeplessness. It is possible that it activates GABA A receptors, which help stimulate sleep. Regardless of the science behind it, a hot cup of herbal tea in the evening can relax and soothe the body, preparing it for sleep. Add a dash of honey to calm your mind for a more restful night.
Kale is rich in calcium, a major supporter of sleep hormone production. By adding kale to a pre-bedtime smoothie or a salad at dinner, or by snacking on homemade kale chips instead of potato chips before bed, you can up your serotonin and other sleep hormone levels. This can help you fall and stay asleep.
Serotonin boosters such as nuts and seeds, avocado, and coconut, help the body to reach a sleepy state. Good fats encourage the natural production of sleep hormones, such as melatonin and tryptophan, that can ease the body into a gentle and natural sleep. An added benefit? These foods are also proven to boost heart health.
Eating a banana before bed is a long-standing fable for improved sleep, but folklore is often based on truth. Bananas are considered natural sedatives, rich in sleep-inducing potassium and magnesium. Both minerals aid in getting you to sleep, and keeping you asleep longer.
A deviation from the whole-grain rule, white rice is rich in other nutrients that aid in tryptophan production. It rates high on the glycemic index, which increases blood sugar and insulin. As long as you don’t need to stick to a low-glycemic diet, such foods can improve the uptake of sleep hormones and lead you into a more restful night.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables deliver increased overall health, but more specifically, they can help with sleep. Their high vitamin and mineral content makes fruits and veggies an excellent choice for better digestion, increasing vitamin uptake, and lengthening sleep times. A blend of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables daily can help increase overall good sleep.
Dairy is high in calcium and has been found to promote good sleep, while also improving mental and physical health. Occurring naturally in yogurt and cheese — and added to many other fortified foods — calcium aids in the production of melatonin. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, provoking a positive effect on the body and brain. While researchers find it difficult to pinpoint the direct relationship between dairy products and sleep, it has generally considered a positive one.Note that some research shows certain dairy products, such as aged cheeses, can actually hinder sleep.
Foods to Avoid
In addition to adding sleep-inducing foods to your diet, it is important to know what may be harming your sleep.
- Alcohol is a stimulant and can actually lead to additional sleep problems such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, and increased sleep apnea symptoms.
- Spicy foods can exacerbate digestive problems such as acid reflux, leading to discomfort when lying down. Hot peppers in spicy foods can also increase core temperature. This makes it that much harder to cool the body — a necessary part of getting to sleep.
- Though some good fats can help with sleep, and some protein sources contain tryptophan, not all foods with fat and protein are created equal. Some, such as ice cream, can reduce hormone and chemical uptake in the body, and act as stimulants rather than sleep aids.