December 12 2021
Foods that Naturally Help You Sleep Better
Learn more about how your body prepares for sleep and foods that can help you get a better night's rest for optimal recovery.
Getting high-quality sleep is one of the most important things we can do to optimize our health. A good night's rest can affect everything from how productive you are the next day to how well your immune system can fight off diseases. Many people turn to sleep hygiene practices to maximize their rest, such as quiet bedrooms, regular bedtimes, and no screens in bed. However, an important factor that can heavily influence how you sleep is nutrition. People understand the importance of nutrition when it comes to many aspects of wellness (think: lowering blood pressure, strengthening bones, improving focus), yet pay little attention to which nutrients and foods they are consuming before sleep. In this article, we focus on the main vitamins and minerals that will help promote peaceful and deep sleep, and which common foods you can buy for the best pre-sleep snacking.
HOW IS SLEEP REGULATED IN THE BODY?
How melatonin works in your body and how to give your body a helping hand
Many factors work together to regulate sleep within the body, but melatonin is one of the most important players. The pineal gland, which is a small endocrine gland in the brain, receives signals that indicate whether it is time to sleep or wake up. This is largely done by the amount of light that is perceived by the brain. The pineal gland releases the hormone melatonin in response to darkness and suppresses melatonin in response to light. The helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle and helps you fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night.
As you may imagine, artificial lights and screens have hurt the body's ability to regulate melatonin. Many people experience insomnia and disrupted sleep as a result of this, and taking melatonin supplements becoming more and more popular. The problem with this is that taking melatonin regularly can interfere with your body's ability to regulate the hormone on its own, leave you feeling drowsy in the mornings, and even cause side effects such as headaches and dizziness. So how do we help ourselves get the most peaceful and well-regulated Zzzs? Nutrition! Luckily, there are natural ways to help our body to regulate and produce melatonin so we can ensure we are giving ourselves the best setup to live happy and healthy lives.
BEST VITAMINS FOR SLEEP
There are four vitamins and minerals that play a large role in good-quality sleep: magnesium, calcium, tryptophan, and B6. Foods that directly contain melatonin, in addition to foods that contain the four listed vitamins and minerals, are what you should be reaching for at the end of the day.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps the body to produce melatonin. By upping your intake of tryptophan, you help your body be able to produce and regulate the sleep-inducing hormone. Calcium is a mineral that helps the body use tryptophan to create melatonin, so it's important to include it in the diet to maximize the effects of tryptophan.
Vitamin B6 has similar effects as tryptophan, helping your body produce serotonin and melatonin which regulate moods and sleep. Magnesium, on the other hand, has calming effects on the nervous system, which makes it an ideal choice when going to sleep. All four of these vitamins and minerals work together to help your body relax, produce, and utilize necessary sleep-inducing hormones, and provide you with high-quality rest.
WHAT SHOULD I EAT?
FOODS WITH MELATONIN
Tart cherries are one of the best sources of natural melatonin. Tart cherry juice has long been recommended as a natural sleeping aid, but drinking cherry juice can significantly raise your daily sugar intake. We recommend eating tart cherries whole as an alternative to drinking their juice.
Goji berries are hailed for many things in the health and wellness world, but many don’t know that they have a high natural concentration of melatonin. Sprinkling them over some Greek yogurt, adding them into trail mix, or just eating them plain are all great ways to take advantage of this fruit.
One ounce of pistachios contains roughly the same amount of melatonin as a supplement, but they’re loaded with fiber and other high-quality nutrients as well. They are a trusted source of melatonin for your body and we recommend eating a handful about an hour before bed.
FOODS WITH SLEEP-INDUCING NUTRIENTS
Bananas contain a high amount of tryptophan, in addition to containing high levels of potassium, magnesium, and B6. All of these vitamins and vital to relax muscles and sleep deeply, which makes bananas an all-around top choice for better sleep.
Cashews are a great source of tryptophan, as well as B6 and magnesium—both of which help your body sleep better. Because cashews are super high in tryptophan, they also have mood-stabilizing and anxiety-fighting effects on the body.
Oats and oatmeal provide a high level of tryptophan per cup, which makes them ideal to help you catch a goods night's sleep. Oats are also high in B6 and magnesium. For optimal pre-sleep snacking, we recommend making banana oatmeal cookies for a nice sweet treat!
Pumpkin seeds are very high in magnesium, along with being high in antioxidants and other mega-healthy nutrients. They are great to roast or snack on plain, in addition to mixing into yogurt or baked goods.
PEANUTS AND ALMONDS
Super high in B6 and magnesium, peanuts and almonds are also great pre-bedtime nuts. We recommend mixing your favorite ones and roasting them with some cinnamon!
As if we needed another reason to love chocolate, dark chocolate is packed with magnesium. Eating before bed with a nice glass of warm milk or tea will leave you feeling calm and collected for the night’s sleep.
One cup of soy milk will provide you will a high dose of magnesium. A warm cup of regular or vanilla soy milk will have a relaxing effect on the body.
MILK AND YOGURTS
To get maximum calcium at bedtime, we recommend eating Greek yogurt or a warm cup of milk. You can even make hot chocolate by heating up the milk and mixing in some magnesium-containing dark chocolate!
If you are looking to get better sleep to maximize your recovery, nutrition can help you. By selecting foods with melatonin or other sleep-inducing nutrients, nutrition can help set you up for a great night's rest to get you recovered and performing at your best.
https://amerisleep.com/blog/magnesium-and-sleep/#:~:text=While%20both%20can%20act%20as,your%20body%20to%20fall%20asleep. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-foods-to-help-you-sleep#2.-Turkey https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-tryptophan#2 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15650-magnesium-rich-food
EXPERTS REFERENCED: JOSIE BURRIDGE
Josie has always had a passion for food and cooking. From a young age, she was always in the kitchen mixing up new recipes and making her family try her way-too-elaborate meals. She was a competitive gymnast for 12 years, which inspired her to pursue her bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, emphasizing her studies on biochemistry and biomechanics. She is currently a graduate student studying nutritional epidemiology, and loves combining her knowledge of science with her love of food to provide athletes with high-quality, up-to-date nutritional information and research.