There are many things that can affect how quickly you nod off and how well you rest when you sleep but did you know that your diet can affect your sleep too. We take a look at the best foods that science tell us can help us slip off into the land of nod.
A great source of tryptophan, the sleep-inducing amino acid that helps us to make serotonin and melatonin, all of which helps out body clock hormone in the sleep-wake cycle. With their own source of melatonin, there was a study by the University of Texas that found walnuts could help us fall asleep faster.
Rich in magnesium, almonds are thought to help improve the quality of sleep as well as being a headache remedy. A recent study found that when the body’s magnesium levels are low, you could find it harder to get to sleep. The answer? Reach for the almonds.
There is an old wives’ tale that suggests a hot, milky drink before help helps to make you sleepy and there is some truth in the matter. Calcium helps the brain to trigger tryptophan that triggers melatonin. Calcium is also thought to regulate muscle movement.
The stuff of nightmares? There is speculation that eating cheese before bed could lead to ghastly nightmares but the science doesn’t support this. However, there is a piece of research that shows eating cheese just before bed can induce dreams (but not nightmares) But the research was carried out by the British Cheese Board. Biased?
Did you know that lettuce has sedative qualities? Lactucarium is nature’s sedative and lettuce has it in abundance. If a salad with your dinner doesn’t attract you then simmer four large leaves in a cup of water for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add a sprig of mint and sip before bed.
Sticking with tea for a moment, if you are struggling to nod off it may be that you need to ditch your caffeinated night time drink (hot chocolate has caffeine too) and opt for a cup of chamomile tea instead. Known as a stress-buster, it is known to increase glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles, as well as acting like a mild sedative.
Passion Fruit Tea
Ring the changes with passion fruit tea and take a page out of Australian research study that found Harman alkaloids, found in large quantities in the flower act on the nervous system to make it ‘tired’, great news if you have a run of bad nights recently.
Not often seen on a list of healthy foods but, pretzels and corn chips or nachos have a high glycemic index and this causes a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. The effect is that it will take you less time to nod off.
Fish such as tuna, as well as halibut and salmon, are high in B6 an essential vitamin for producing melatonin and serotonin. If you aren’t keen on fish, raw garlic (ahem!) and pistachio nuts give you the same B6 boost.
Like pretzels and nachos, white rice has a high glycemic index causing that slouch after the sugar peak. If you fancy a change, opt for jasmine rice as shut-eye is apparently only a blink or two away after eating. And this is a scientific fact! An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate jasmine rice fell asleep twice as fast as those that ate other types of rice.
A glass of cherry juice is proven to help you fall asleep faster but the joint study between the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester found that the tarter the cherry juice, the better. The conclusion was that cherry juice provided a natural boost to melatonin levels.
There is some value in your supper-time treat being your favourite cereal. It is thought that the combination of carbohydrates, the cereal, and the calcium, the milk, are ideal for producing the desired physical and mental response needed to help someone relax and fall into the land of nod within a few minutes of their head touching the pillow…
Honey is a natural product stuffed with nature’s own sugar, known to raise insulin levels. Raised insulin levels allow tryptophan to enter the brain easier and according to various nutritionists and scientists, a spoonful of honey before bed or use it to sweeten your chamomile tea aids a restful night sleep.
Green leafy vegetables are, surprisingly, full of calcium which helps the brain to use tryptophan and to thus to manufacture melatonin. If you find kale too bitter, opt for spinach.
Shrimp or Lobster
As well as tuna and salmon, both shrimp and lobster are crustaceans full of tryptophan and could make for a restful night sleep.
We dare you to find a tastier snack than hummus and here’s the good news, chick peas, the main ingredient in hummus, are full of tryptophan which you have probably gathered by now is the magic ingredient to kick start the falling to sleep process. Hummus and wholegrain crackers are the ideal bedtime snack.
No really, before you dismiss this you need to know that game meat has twice the level of tryptophan than turkey. The next time you are out for a slap-up meal opt for the game meat, like venison, and nod off as soon as your head hits the pillow… maybe.
A Note on Sleep & Diet
This list is not exhaustive but it gives an idea of some foods that are scientifically proven to aid sleep. But like anything to do with your diet, it is a question of balance. And eating a portion of hummus or a plate of venison may not yield instant results. As well as eating well, plenty of exercise also helps the mind and body to come to a full stop at the end of a busy day.