It’s well-known that the four pillars of good health are quality sleep, regular exercise, mental wellbeing and nutrition – but how do these factors interact with each other?
Most of us eat to maintain a healthy diet, but not many of us choose foods with the purpose of improving our sleep. Did you know there are certain foods that trigger a sleep-inducing hormonal response and work to calm the nervous system? For those who suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, knowing which foods can improve sleep is invaluable.
Here are 10 foods that are scientifically proven to help you sleep
Chicken or turkey has tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that you can only get from what you eat and drink. It helps your body make serotonin (a relaxing mood hormone) which then helps your body make melatonin (a hormone that controls sleep cycles).
Pistachios hit the sleep-inducing jackpot, packing in protein, vitamin B6, and magnesium, all of which contribute to better sleep. Refrain from a shell-cracking frenzy, though. Don’t exceed a 1-ounce portion of nuts. Anything too high in calories can have the reverse effect of keeping you awake!
A handful of nuts are a great bedtime snack, as they boost serotonin levels in the brain and are an excellent source of magnesium and tryptophan. Walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds contain the highest levels of tryptophan.
4. Warm Milk
Warm milk is a common home remedy for sleeplessness. Milk contains four sleep-promoting compounds: tryptophan, calcium, vitamin D, and melatonin.
However, the childhood association that many people have between a warm cup of milk and bedtime may be more effective than tryptophan or melatonin in promoting sleep. Like a cup of tea, having a warm cup of milk before bed can be a relaxing nightly ritual.
The tried-and-true mug of chamomile tea before bed is a well-known sleep remedy for a reason. The chamomile herb has calming effects on the brain and body – and a warm cup of (non-caffeinated) tea before bed may be just what you need to help you drift off to a peaceful, deep sleep.
[Read: 12 Foods for Stress Relief]
Kiwifruit possess numerous vitamins and minerals3, most notably vitamins C and E as well as potassium and folate.
In a study, people who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime found that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality.
It is not known for sure why kiwis may help with sleep, but researchers believe that it could relate to their antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or high concentration of serotonin.
7. Fatty Fish
Researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a healthy dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin. This study focused particularly on fish consumption during winter months when vitamin D levels tend to be lower.
The nutrients in dried plums — vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium, to name a few — help make melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Use prunes as a whole-grain toast topping, mix them into trail mix, or eat them on their own about 30 minutes before bedtime.
Glucose in honey lowers levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you more alert. Honey will put that alertness in reverse.
Grapes are an example of a fruit that contains naturally-occurring melatonin, the chemical promoting restful sleep. Keep some grapes in your fridge for a cool snack through the summer. And by grapes, we do mean the fruit form – contrary to popular belief, wine does not help you sleep!