How To Use Food For Better Sleep
The battle for sleep is real. With the right nutrients, you can give your body the fuel it needs to function properly and get a full seven to nine hours of sleep every day.
Fuel Your Body RightFoods contain the nutrients your body uses to make sleep hormones like melatonin. Any food that contributes to and aids in the production of sleep hormones can help you fall and stay asleep better. Sprinkle them throughout your day or try them as a late night snack for a quick sleep boost.
Melatonin: The pineal gland releases melatonin in preparation for sleep, which makes foods that contain it an excellent addition to your dinner or late-night snack. While many of the foods on our list contribute to the production of melatonin, there are also foods that are rich in melatonin itself. Cherries, walnuts, bananas, oats, and tomatoes are all excellent sources of melatonin.
Tryptophan: The amino acid tryptophan is used to make serotonin, which aids in the production of melatonin. While turkey is famous for its tryptophan content, it’s not the only nor the best source of this amino acid. Nuts, fish, eggs, and beans are all good sources of tryptophan, and they’re high in protein, which can help you feel full.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates naturally contribute to the production of tryptophan. A study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research found that carbohydrates contribute to the tryptophan’s entrance into the brain. Carbs like rice, breads, pasta, and potatoes can all help facilitate the success of overall melatonin production.
Calcium: Calcium deficiency has been connected to disturbances in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Calcium, like carbohydrates, helps the body use tryptophan to make melatonin. Dairy products contain both tryptophan and calcium, making them great sleep aids. However, those with allergies and food sensitivities may need to look for calcium elsewhere. Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are excellent sources of calcium.
Vitamin B6: Foods rich in vitamin B6 create neurotransmitters that contribute to melatonin production as well. Salmon, tuna, pistachio nuts, and chickpeas are all high in vitamin B6.
Magnesium: Like calcium, a magnesium deficiency can lead to insomnia. It’s associated with type II insomnia, in particular. This is the type of insomnia wherein you fall asleep easily but wake frequently throughout the night. Try whole grains like bulgur and barley as well as almonds to get an excellent source of magnesium.
Create a Healthy Sleep EnvironmentWhile the foods you eat can make a big difference to your sleep success, you can also help yourself by creating a healthy sleep environment. The body uses natural light to correctly time the release of melatonin. That’s why at night it’s best to keep your room as dark as possible. That might mean blackout curtains or heavy drapes to keep out light pollution. If you’re worried about finding the bathroom in the dark, a nightlight kept low to the ground that’s motion activated can help you safely navigate your room without disrupting your sleep cycle.
The bedroom should also be kept comfortably cool. For most people, that’s between 60 to 68 degrees. And, if noise is a problem, you might want to invest in a white noise or machine.
Better sleep comes through healthy habits, including the food you eat. Armed with the right nutrients, you give your body the best chance of getting the deep, restful sleep you need.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.
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The information in this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis and treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before altering your diet, starting a new treatment or making changes to an existing treatment.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist - CDN, RDN
My name is Valerie Polley. I am a Indianapolis-based registered dietitian and owner of Blue Tree Nutrition. I consult with clients both local and far away.
I have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Purdue University and I have been practicing for 20 years.
I thoroughly enjoy helping clients through their gut health journey. I see a range of GI issues including, but not limited to celiac disease, IBS and SIBO. I also specialize in the FODMAP elimination diet.
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