Sleep is one of the most underrated aspects of our health. During sleep, our bodies are replenishing neurotransmitter and hormone levels, detoxifying, repairing tissues, consolidating memories and basically rejuvenating for the next day ahead. Yet, since we can’t accomplish any concrete tasks while we’re sleeping, some people believe that it’s an “unproductive” way to spend 1/3 of our lives. Quite to the contrary, the amount and quality of sleep that we obtain during the evening hours directly impacts how energetic and successful we can be during the other 2/3 of the day.
And diet, of course, has a huge impact on the quality of our sleep! Read on for 6 superfoods for better sleep:
1. Sleepy Time Teas: though black teas and green teas contain caffeine, and should be avoided by those who have restless sleep, there are a few herbal teas which can be extremely effective for those who have trouble falling asleep in particular. If you tend to feel ramped up at night, try a cup of tea containing lemon balm, chamomile, sage, passionflower, hops or valerian tea. These teas help to relax muscles, calm the nervous system and act as a signal to the body that it’s time for Zzz’s. Drink one cup in the late afternoon, and another at least 1 hour before bed (to avoid waking up to urinate).
Recommended tea: Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night Tea
2. Yes To Chocolate: a fantastic reason to rationalize chocolate! Chocolate contains tryptophan, a pre-cursor to serotonin in the body, and has one of the highest per gram content of magnesium compared to all other foods. Magnesium is a natural sedative that is fantastic for relaxing muscle tremors or cramps and has the added benefits of assisting with constipation, irritability and pain management. I always recommend chocolate in the purest form – as cocoa powder or at least 70% dark – and in moderation, as the calorie count is high.
3. Seeds For Sleep: the amino acid tryptophan is high in sesame seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds, and is utilized by the body to produce both serotonin and melatonin (two essential sleep hormones). If you have trouble staying asleep or wake frequently throughout the night, you are likely low in one or both of these hormones. Luckily, pumpkin seeds are also relatively high in zinc, which is needed for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. When it comes to sleep remedies, a mixture of pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and sesame seeds over unsweetened yogurt is the ultimate knock-out remedy.
Recipe: mix ¼ cup pumpkin seeds (or pumpkin seed powder), 1-2 tablespoonds of chia seeds and a sprinkling of sesame seeds into unsweetened coconut or almond milk yogurt (or Greek yogurt if you’re not sensitive to dairy)
4. Nuts About Melatonin: like seeds, nuts are high in tryptophan and melatonin, but as an added benefit they help to keep blood sugar regulated. One of the reasons for waking throughout the night is actually because blood sugar has dropped so low that the body perceives stress, and it responds by producing cortisol (the stress hormone) to wake you up. In more severe cases, midnight noshing can occur. The melatonin present in raw nuts such as almonds and walnuts improves sleep and also offers antioxidant protection.
Go nuts: eat a small handful of raw almonds and walnuts, mixed, twice per day as snacks and once again before bed time
5. Bed Time Snacks Are In: as mentioned above, those who have trouble staying asleep throughout the night and wake frequently often have to work on their blood sugar/insulin regulation. Having a snack with a bit of protein right before bed (as long as it’s not a meal) shouldn’t cause weight gain and promotes deep, sustained sleep. Remember, those who sleep well statistically weigh less than those who deprive themselves of sleep or are restless.
Nightly nosh: a small snack before bed, such as applesauce and almonds/walnuts, a few turkey slices, or a hard boiled egg pack protein that will help to sustain blood sugar longer through the night
6. Cherries On Top: there was a recent research paper, albeit small, that suggested cherries are another food that contain melatonin – and drinking tart cherry juice resulted in small improvements in sleep duration and quality in adults who suffered from chronic insomnia. A small glass (1 cup) of tart cherry juice with your bed time snack might be just what you need.
Sleepy elixir: try 1 cup of tart (unsweetened) cherry juice about 1 hour before bed time
Many people have disrupted sleep patterns. Those who suffer from insomnia spend less time in deeper levels of sleep that are truly restorative. In addition to stress, trouble sleeping can be caused by many other factors including anxiety, poor diet, changes to the circadian rhythm, adrenal gland dysfunction, blood sugar dysregulation, and others, depending on the individual patient. When I see sleep trouble, it’s something I always want to explore – most pathologies and disease patterns are much improved, if not reversed, by restoring an appropriate sleeping pattern.
If the above interventions are not effective for you, the true culprit may be an underlying hormone imbalance or other irritation to the nervous system. In my practice, I test for subtle imbalances and treat accordingly in order to get my patients to sleep quicker, deeper and longer.
Wishing you good Zzz’s!
Photo to accompany this article is not my property, and was found at bhmpics.com