Last updated on April 6th, 2018
Food & drink plays a vital but often overlooked role in shaping the quality of our sleep
We’ve all laid in bed with our minds racing about the past or the future – what could I have done differently, I wish I had said this or that, what kind of questions are they going to ask me tomorrow?
I believe this is a natural part of life; sometimes you’re going to be running on fumes, sleep deprived because we can’t shut off. But with over nine million American’s reaching for sleeping pills when it’s time to get shuteye, it’s well beyond the occasional sleepless night.
It’s a major problem.
Lack of sleep kills productivity, can cause relationship issues, it makes us fat and it literally is killing us. But the alternative, reaching for prescription drugs because we’re too anxious to sleep isn’t much better.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sleep medication addiction is a very real thing.
Along with reducing blue light from electronics, maintaining a sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the evening (and for some, all together) and reducing stress, certain foods can greatly aid your ability to fall asleep at night.
Carb up for better sleep & weight loss
After a carbohydrate heavy meal your glycemic index will spike. Increases in your blood sugar levels help to induce sleep.
Consuming a carb rich meal four hours before bed can help you doze off when the time comes. And of course sleep is essential for both weight loss and muscle repair – so while I don’t suggest piling on carbs every night a few hours before bed if it’s helping you get a solid sleep it can actually help you shed a few pounds.
Drink herbal tea
A number of herbal teas can be beneficial when it comes to falling asleep.
Part of falling asleep is quieting an anxious mind, so look for ingredients that help do just that.
Valerian is a natural herb that can help reduce insomnia. It’s quite common to use valerian for anxiety, which of course will also help you fall asleep.
Chamomile tea is perhaps the most common nighttime tea used as a sleep aid. It helps to relax both your mind and nerves putting you into a calm place before bed.
Like valerian, lavender tea helps reduce anxiety and can be a natural cure for insomnia. If you’re not much of a tea drinker, rest assured you can get your lavender in many other forms. It’s an extremely common essential oil and a number of Epsom bath salts contain lavender.
In Eastern Medicine Magnolia Bark is one of a handful of plants and herbs used to create Hange-koboku-to, which is used as a sleep aid. It’s believed that Magnolia Bark is the active ingredient.
Tryptophan is the key to sleep
Tryptophan is a natural amino acid that is vital to producing the chemical Serotonin. You’ve probably heard of Serotonin even if you’re not quite sure what it does.
Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter; it helps your brain send signals which as you might have guessed is an incredibly important process for our health.
It can impact our cardiovascular system, our muscles, our mood and of course our sleep.
Serotonin can impact our sleeping habits in two ways. First Serotonin initially helps you doze off. Second studies have shown those with low serotonin levels spend less time in REM sleep.
But without tryptophan there is no serotonin it’s the key to creating Serotonin.
Protein is the best source of tryptophan – unfortunately when you eat protein all of the amino acids are competing to cross the blood-brain barrier. This article does a much better job of explaining how it works and why loading up on protein doesn’t necessarily increase tryptophan levels.
The way you combat this is by eating carbohydrate rich meals without protein. Unfortunately you’ve now lost the main source of tryptophan, protein.
One of the best ways to make sure you’re receiving enough tryptophan is to take a supplement! They’re readily available and relatively cheap.
Are you getting enough magnesium and calcium?
Both magnesium and calcium are relatively well known minerals. What may surprise you is how they both play a critical role in sleep.
Calcium helps the brain use tryptophan, which as we now know is vital to sleep.
Magnesium has been linked to insomnia and it’s ability to reduce stress.
You probably know that dairy products are high in calcium but if you’re like the majority of the population (some studies have it as high as 65%) you suffer from some level of lactose intolerance.
If you’re not adhering to a strict paleo diet, beans are an excellent source of calcium. Salmon, kale, almonds and oranges are four foods I eat regularly that are extremely high in calcium.
As for magnesium, you can eat spinach or other dark greens, nuts, seeds, bananas and my personal favorite, avocados.
Eat more fish
Fish is widely touted as one of our planet’s healthiest foods. And one of the benefits of eating more fish is a better night’s sleep.
In addition to being high in magnesium and calcium, it’s also one of the few sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin D has been getting a lot of notoriety in recent years. It’s been linked to heart disease, mental health and even cancer.
If you live near the equator you’re probably getting enough Vitamin D every day from the sun. That being said, if you’re living in a northern climate odds are you’re not receiving enough exposure. It’s suggested that you get 10 – 15 minutes of unprotected exposure (arms and legs) a few times per week.
The majority of us aren’t receiving an adequate amount of Vitamin D, which plays an important part in our ability to sleep.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone as opposed to a vitamin and a lack of it can wreck havoc on our sleep cycle.
If you’re not already eating fish on a weekly basis it may be time to re-consider.
If you’re not sleeping well it will eventually catch up to you. Western society has gloried ‘the grind’ often times at the expense of sleep.
Regardless of whether you’re a writer, a millworker or a professional athlete sleep allows us to perform at our highest levels.
And before you reach for sleeping pills, consider trying to alter your diet to include foods which promote a restful night’s sleep.
About the author
Dan is a plant-fuelled entrepreneur. When he’s not growing his business he’s in the kitchen cooking or outside enjoying the Rocky Mountains. He’s the owner of Rocky Mountain Essentials, a vegan and cruelty-free beauty brand.