Along with exercise and stress reduction, nutrition and sleep are core pillars of optimal wellness. And what you eat, of course, has a profound impact on sleep quality. The following are some of the best foods for inducing deep sleep.
In research studies, most of the best foods for sleep activate the brain transmitter, serotonin. Serotonin regulates the body’s circadian rhythms. Serotonin is your body’s internal alarm clock and governs your sleep-wake cycle.
You’ve probably heard that eating turkey is good for sleep because it contains the amino acid, tryptophan. What’s the connection with tryptophan and serotonin? Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. And serotonin, in turn, is a precursor to melatonin, the so-called “sleep hormone.”
Melatonin levels increase at night, helping you to fall asleep, while serotonin levels boost during daylight hours, and especially in natural light.
So to fall asleep and stay asleep, you need to eat foods that activate serotonin, which will convert into melatonin.
(You should also exercise or meditate in the outdoors to stimulate serotonin release. Also, make sure you power off all electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops and TVs at least an hour before you go to sleep; these blue-light releasing devices interfere with melatonin’s ability to promote sleep.)
Turkey for sleep?
Which brings us back to eating turkey … is it one of the best foods for sleep? While it is rich in tryptophan, which converts into serotonin, turkey isn’t one of the best foods for health, at least not conventionally-farmed turkey.
A Warm Glass of Milk for ZZZs?
If not turkey, perhaps milk, another folk remedy for sleep that’s rich in tryptophan? Drinking a warm glass of milk may provide some comfort, and who knows, maybe milk will even help you sleep better.
However, drinking milk, even organic milk may promote inflammation in the joints, especially those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or arthritis. Some research actually shows that drinking milk lowers inflammation in the body. If you’re not allergic or sensitive to dairy, drinking raw milk, which contains beneficial bacteria, may be the healthiest kind of milk you can consume.
In a study of 440 medical students, using the Pittsburgh sleep quality index (PSQI) questionnaire, the odds of good sleep quality were 2.5 times more likely with soybean intake.
Why are soybeans potentially helpful for sleep? They contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. Isoflavones are structurally similar to human estrogen. Although estrogen is more well-known as a sex hormone, it impacts sleep duration and quality as wel, according to this study from Japan.
Moreover, soybeans also contain tryptophan and some complex carbohydrates that are beneficial to serotonin. Soy also contains a non-essential amino acid (the body produces it on its own) called L-ornithine. This amino acid, according to this study, may help to relieve stress and improve sleep quality.
A study about functional foods to promote sleep, says that magnesium-rich whole grains act like a natural muscle relaxer. This mild sedative quality occurs by magnesium binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is your body’s most important stress reduction chemical. Like serotonin, it plays a big part in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Whole grains also contain butyric acid, which produces GABA. Without doubt, some people who eat plenty of whole grains experience insomnia, at least from time to time.
But according to the above research study, complex carbs also raise serotonin and lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. These attributes make whole grains, at least in theory, beneficial for promoting better sleep.
But what about insulin spikes from eating grains? Whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and einhorn, first of all, do not necessarily cause a dramatic insulin spike like simple starches. And the rise in insulin allows tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it gets converted to serotonin.
One more benefit of whole grains for sleep: they are rich in the mineral, selenium, which helps calm the nerves.
What micronutrients and macronutrients do leafy greens not possess? The nutrients that may help you sleep better in leafy greens, according to this study, are: tryptophan, potassium, magnesium, fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin, choline, complex carbs, and beta carotene.
And this research shows that fiber has been shown to be associated with deeper and more restorative sleep. The two vision-benefitting carotenoid antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, can also help inhibit the effects of blue light.
The study on the 440 medical students claims that lima beans are one of the best foods for sleep quality. That’s because they contain high levels of sleep-promoting phosphorus, magnesium, L-ornithine, and B6. Out of these nutrients, phosphorus is “especially crucial for cellular repair, energy metabolism, and sleep.” Low levels of this mineral have been associated with poor sleep quality.
Herbal teas have been used for centuries to help promote relaxation. Calming down before bed is one thing. But can herbal teas really help you fall asleep and stay asleep?
Drinking decaffeinated green tea may be one of the best. It’s rich in the amino acid, L-Threonine, which binds to GABA receptors and induces relaxation in brain waves. This amino acid has also been shown to improve sleep quality in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
And who can exclude the herbal tea folk remedy for sleep, chamomile tea? Why is it potentially helpful in increasing sleep quality? Chamomile contains apigenin, a flavonoid antioxidant that helps ease anxiousness. This study shows apigenin improves sleep behaviors.
Another herbal tea that may help boost sleep quality is magnolia bark. It raises GABA receptor activity in the brain.
Best Foods For Sleep: Conclusion
This is by no means the only foods that may help your sleep quality. But try making these foods a staple of your diet. And of course avoid the obvious offenders: high-sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.
What foods help you sleep better? Leave a comment.