Do you find yourself unwinding from a long day by curling up in bed with a good book and then lying awake for hours trying to fall asleep? Or even worse, waking up periodically throughout the night stressing about how tired you’re going to feel the next day?
Sleeplessness can affect more than just your energy levels and your mood. In fact, Brittany Andrejcin, a certified holistic nutrition consultant with a focus in optimal sleep says it’s vital to your well-being.
“You’d be hard pressed to find an area of our health that isn’t in some way related to sleep. Everything from our immune system, appetite regulation, cognitive health, cardiovascular health, mental well-being, hormonal health and beyond, is directly tied to the quantity and quality of sleep we get on a regular basis.” So, in light of this important information we asked a few pros what foods and drinks you can incorporate into your diet to help you eat right and sleep tight.
We often assume bananas fall under the category of breakfast food, but because the nutrient-dense fruit is packed with potassium and magnesium, it’s a great snack to eat before bedtime to jump start relaxation and help you catch some deep zzz’s.
“Magnesium helps support deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA which promotes sleep.” Andrejcin says. “It helps regulate the body’s stress response and alleviates muscle tension.”
Poultry and fish
“Tryptophan is an amino acid that is synthesized into serotonin and melatonin, yes that ever-important sleep hormone,” Una Cotter says, a nutritional therapist. (@eat.sleep.breathe.nutrition) And being that poultry and fish are packed with tryptophan, turkey, chicken, salmon and cod are great foods to add to your diet if you’re having trouble falling into a slumber. Cotter also recommends nuts and seeds as an alternative to getting more tryptophan in your diet if you’re a vegan or vegetarian.
Kale might be the one superfood the internet still can’t get enough of, but the truth is it’s great for regulating sleep. Dark greens like spinach, bok choy, kale and even broccoli are packed with calcium that helps convert tryptophan and manufacture melatonin in your body, Andrejcin said. Milk is also another great source of calcium if eating your greens is just not your thing.
Oranges are an excellent source of Vitamin D and the good news is that this not only helps you sleep but can help you sleep longer and heavier. “Vitamin D has been researched to show that it influences both sleep quality and quantity,” Andrejcin said. “Low levels [ of Vitamin D] show up with higher likelihood of sleep disturbances.”
Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm and snacking on a few Morello cherries before you head to sleep could help your body find that rhythm. “Melatonin and cortisol have a finely tuned relationship and if your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body could be releasing cortisol late at night instead of first thing in the morning,” Cotter says. She also says grapes can help your body find that rhythm too.
Consuming a balanced diet of whole and nutrient-dense foods is one of the best ways to ensure your sleep cycle is healthy. But Andrejcin says it’s important to remember that your sleep patterns can be affected by other outside forces. So, it’s important to check-in not only with your diet but your other lifestyle habits to determine if there are any issues. “Sleep is a complex process and understanding the basics is essential to empowering yourself in maintaining your optimal health.”
A version of this story was published March 2020.
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